An official Iraqi government investigation has accused forces from the private military company Blackwater of committing "deliberate murder" when it shot and killed 17 Iraqis last month in Baghdad. Iraq says the Blackwater guards must be punished accordingly. Meanwhile, the State Department has announced it will continue to use Blackwater guards in Iraq but that the private soldiers will be put under tighter controls. Cameras will be placed in their convoys, and diplomatic security agents will accompany convoys protected by Blackwater. Blackwater is also coming under pressure here in the United States. Over 300 people rallied on Sunday to protest Blackwater’s plans to open an 800-acre military training base east of San Diego.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Blackwater recently hired a public relations firm with ties to Senator Hillary Clinton. A subsidiary of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller helped Blackwater founder Erik Prince prepare for his recent testimony before Congress. The president of Burson-Marsteller is Mark Penn — the chief strategist for Clinton"s presidential campaign.
The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has stepped up accusations that Iran is inciting violence in Iraq. Over the weekend Petraeus accused the Iranian ambassador in Iraq of being a member of the Quds force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Petraeus provided no evidence to support his claim. Petraeus said, "There should be no question about the malign, lethal involvement and activities of the Quds force in this country." Last month Petraeus accused Iran of providing arms to Shiite militias in Iraq. Petraeus has been accused of ratcheting up the rhetoric against Tehran in preparation for military strikes in Iran. On Friday, in an interview with the Arabic network Al-Arabiya, President Bush dismissed reports that the U.S. is preparing plans to possibly attack Iran. Bush called the reports "empty propaganda" and "baseless," but he didn’t rule out a U.S. strike.
President Bush: "I of course said all options are on the table, but I made a pledge to the American people that we will work diplomatically to solve the problem, and that’s why you see us at the United Nations working with the EU countries and China and Russia to send that clear message and that we are going to continue to impose sanctions and make it harder for the Iranian government to operate in the world until they change their mind."
In other news from Iraq, more than 1,000 Iraqis marched in West Baghdad to protest the U.S. military’s decision to build a concrete wall around their neighborhood. The U.S plans to wall off at least five neighborhoods in Baghdad in order to separate Sunnis and Shiites. This comes as The Washington Post reports several top Iraqi leaders have lost faith in achieving national reconciliation. Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials have accused the U.S. of killing at least 17 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in multiple helicopter air strikes near Baquba on Friday. At least four houses were destroyed. One Iraqi army official said many of the civilians were killed when they rushed out to help those hurt in the initial bombing.
In news from Afghanistan, one U.S. soldier and four Afghan civilians died on Saturday when a suicide car bomber attacked an American military convoy in Kabul. Dozens of shops were damaged in the blast. The bombing occurred on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. It was the third major attack in Kabul in a week. The United Nations recently revealed that violence has reached a new high in Afghanistan. Over 5,000 people have been killed so far in 2007. This year is also on pace to be the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops. Eighty-seven American soldiers have died so far.
With a record 50,000 foreign troops now in Afghanistan, it appears the U.S. is planning for a long stay. The U.S. military recently began expanding the American base at Bagram. New barracks are being built to help accommodate the record number of U.S. troops in the country. Col. Jonathan Ives said: "This is going to become a long-term base for us; whether that means five years, 10 years, we don’t know." Meanwhile, opium production has reached a new high in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports U.S. officials are trying to persuade the Afghan government to begin spraying herbicide on opium poppies.
Pakistan is in a state of political turmoil after Saturday’s presidential vote. General Pervez Musharraf won an overwhelming majority of the vote because of a boycott by almost the entire opposition. However, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Musharraf was even eligible to stand for re-election while retaining his post as army chief. The court won’t decide until at least October 17.
The Bush administration is continuing to reject calls by congressional Democrats to release a series of secret legal opinions effectively sanctioning the use of torture. On Friday, President Bush defended his administration’s interrogation policy.
President Bush: "When we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them, because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence, so we can help them, help protect them. That’s our job. Secondly, this government does not torture people. You know, we stick to U.S. law and our international obligations."
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports a group of World War II interrogators gathered on Friday at Fort Hunt and criticized the Bush administration’s interrogation practices. Ninety-year-old Henry Kolm said: "We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or ping pong than they do today, with their torture." One of the World War II veterans refused to accept honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, citing his opposition to what has happened at Guantánamo and in Iraq.
U.N. special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the military junta in Burma is continuing to crack down on pro-democracy activists and monks following a wave of protests.
Ibrahim Gambari: "Of great concern to the United Nations and the international community are the continuing and disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security and non-uniformed elements, particularly at night during curfew, including raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances."
On Saturday, demonstrations were held across the globe in solidarity with the pro-democracy activists in Burma. Bo Hla-Tint of the Burmese government in exile spoke in Washington.
Bo Hla-Tint: "Our people are peace-loving, justice-loving. All the time they are seeking for the negotiated political settlement through the dialogue under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. But now, because of the brutal crackdown against the peaceful monks and student leadership, the people are outraged across the nation as well as across the world. Not only Burmese but also across the world, all the friends of Burma asking military dictator to stop now."
In Egypt, 23 independent and opposition daily newspapers refused to publish on Sunday to protest a government clampdown on journalists. Seven journalists were recently sentenced to up to two years in prison for criticizing Hosni Mubarak’s government. Journalists in Egypt can be jailed for writings that are deemed insulting to the president or state institutions such as Parliament or the Cabinet.
In Costa Rica, voters went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether Costa Rica should sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. With returns in from 95 percent of polling stations, the trade deal appears to have been passed by a narrow margin. Opponents of the deal say they won’t recognize the results until a manual recount is done.
In Wisconsin, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in the town of Crandon shot dead six people on Saturday night. Tyler Peterson reportedly burst into his ex-girlfriend’s house and opened fire. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 20. Forest County Sheriff Keith Van Cleve confirmed on Sunday that Peterson was one of his deputies.
Keith Van Cleve: "The shooter was a full-time Forest County deputy. He was off duty at the time of the shooting. He also worked part time for the city."
After a massive manhunt, a sniper shot Peterson dead on Sunday.
A judge in Washington state has granted an emergency stay to postpone the second court-martial of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, which was slated to begin on Tuesday. Watada was the first U.S. Army officer to refuse to fight in the Iraq War. His first court-martial ended in a mistrial. Watada’s lawyers argue that a second court-martial would amount to trying him twice for the same charges.
Police in Denver, Colorado, arrested 83 protesters Saturday after demonstrators blocked the city’s annual Columbus Day parade. Prior to their arrests, protesters poured fake blood on the streets to represent the genocide of indigenous people that began after Columbus sailed to the Americas. American Indian activists Russell Means and Glenn Morris were among the arrested.
And three stem cell researchers have won the 2007 Nobel Prize for medicine. Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies have been pioneers in the new branch of medicine known as gene targeting.