Senate Republicans have thwarted a Democratic measure that would have begun a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. On Wednesday, Democrats fell eight votes shy of the 60 needed to avoid a Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had tried to break the deadlock by keeping the Senate in session around the clock on Tuesday night. When that failed, Reid announced he would withdraw the entire defense authorization bill, to pressure Republican lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "Regrettably, Republicans chose to block this amendment. They chose to block a bipartisan amendment, Mr. President, to deny the American people an up-or-down vote. They chose to continue to protect their president instead of our troops, no matter the cost to our country."
The move is likely to grant President Bush his plea for the Senate to keep Iraq off the table until General David Petraeus issues a progress report in September. Recent polls show seven out of 10 Americans favor a withdrawal from Iraq. Six out of 10 say Congress should only fund the war on condition a timetable for withdrawal is set.
In news from Iraq, several thousand people took part in demonstrations Wednesday demanding better basic services. Most of Iraq sees only limited electricity in the midst of the summer heat. Many Iraqis are also without water and food.
Nihad Al-Zarquani: "As for our demands, they are the demands of all the people. We represent the people, and our demands are the provision of services, security and stability and an end to unemployment, and the provision of electricity and water and all the things that ensure a decent life."
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi government is accusing Turkey of bombing northern areas. Officials say Turkish troops fired more than 200 shells on the Iraqi side of the border. Turkey has threatened to invade Iraq’s northern area where Kurdish groups are based.
Two U.S. soldiers have been charged with murdering an Iraqi civilian in Kirkuk last month. A lieutenant colonel has been relieved of command in connection with the case. No further details were released.
Meanwhile, a U.S. marine has been convicted for the kidnapping and murder of an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania last year. On Wednesday, Cpl. Trent Thomas was found guilty for his role in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad. Awad was dragged from his home, shot and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was a militant planning an attack. Five other servicemembers have pleaded guilty in the case.
President Bush has renewed a threat to veto a bill that would extend health insurance to more than three million low-income children. Last week, senators reached a bipartisan agreement to add $35 billion to the Children’s Health Insurance Program over the next five years by increasing federal taxes on cigarettes. Senators say the extra funding would help cover some of the nation’s eight million uninsured children as well as some adults with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but not high enough to afford private insurance. President Bush wants Congress to limit the increase to just $5 billion.
On Wednesday, he repeated his threat to veto the bill on ideological grounds.
President Bush: "I believe government cannot provide affordable healthcare. I believe it would cause — it would cause the quality of care to diminish. I believe there would be lines and rationing over time. If Congress continues to insist upon expanding healthcare through the S-CHIP program — which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people — I’ll veto the bill."
Many consider renewal of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program the most important health legislation taken up by Congress this year.
In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced he’ll order early parliamentary elections in response to the Hamas seizure of power last month in the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed the call as illegitimate.
Sami Abu Zuhri: "The president’s call for early elections is unacceptable, unconstitutional and illegal. It will remain only as ink on paper, and neither Abbas nor all the papers and all the international powers who support him will be able to hold any election as long as Hamas rejects it."
In Iran, two of the three imprisoned Iranian Americans have appeared on national television in a state-backed documentary. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, and urban planning consultant Kian Tajbakhsh have been jailed since May. They’re both charged with spying and endangering national security. On Wednesday, the state documentary showed the two admitting involvement in U.S.-funded political efforts in Iran but stopping short of making a confession.
United Nations inspectors say they’ve verified North Korea’s shutdown of its five nuclear facilities.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei: "Yes, we now verified that all the five nuclear facilities has been shut down and that appropriate measures put in place including sealing some of these facilities. We expect that in the next few weeks we will continue to apply the necessary monitoring and verification measures. So the facilities, all the five facilities, are shut down. We have verified that."
ElBaradei was speaking ahead of six-party talks that began in Beijing.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday Wednesday. The anti-apartheid leader and former South African president marked the occasion by announcing the launch of an international group of veteran world leaders to tackle global issues.
Nelson Mandela: "Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nation, race and creed, they can help to make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live."
The group includes former President Jimmy Carter.
Jimmy Carter: "With no adverse political consequences and prospects of criticism from constituencies or seeking public office, we will be able to risk failure in worthy causes, and we will not need to claim credit for any successes that might be achieved."
Other group members include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Irish President Mary Robinson and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Back in the United States, Jose Padilla’s defense team begins presenting evidence today at Padilla’s terror trial in Miami. Padilla was initially accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and labeled an enemy combatant. He was later indicted on lesser offenses and now stands accused of aiding al-Qaeda. The presiding judge has called the case "light on facts." Padilla was held in extreme isolation without almost any human contact for 1,300 days and denied an attorney for nearly two years. His attorneys say he was tortured to the point where he is now incapable of assisting in his own defense.
Florida has resumed capital punishment after a seven-month reprieve. Then-Governor Jeb Bush ordered a moratorium after a death row prisoner took 34 minutes to die from lethal injection.
Here in New York, state officials have filed a lawsuit against the oil giant ExxonMobil over its alleged failure to clean up million of gallons of spilled oil over the last century. In a statement, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called the spill in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn "one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history." Exxon says the suit is unfounded. Studies show Exxon has spilled more than 17 million gallons of oil into the Hudson River — that’s seven million more than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
In Washington state, a judge has dismissed charges against 13 of the 23 peace activists who tried to prevent the military from shipping 300 Stryker armored vehicles to Iraq earlier this year.
A new study says police crackdowns and legislation targeting gangs are failing so badly they’re actually making U.S. cities more dangerous. In a new report, the Justice Policy Institute says punitive measures including mass arrests and stiff prison sentences are strengthening gang ties and further marginalizing the youths they target. The finding is based on interviews and analysis of previously published statistics and reports. The Justice Policy Institute says efforts should be geared towards an intervention-based approach.
Meanwhile, the prisoner rights group the Sentencing Project has released a report showing continuing racial disparities in prison sentences. African Americans are jailed at five times the rate of white prisoners. Latinos are jailed at double the rate.
And the New York poet Sekou Sundiata has died at the age of 58. He was one of the country’s most celebrated spoken word artists. Ani DiFranco released two of his recordings on her own Righteous Babe label. Sundiata was a professor of English literature at the New School.