Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is promising to hold the private military firm Blackwater USA accountable for its deadly attack on Iraqis last weekend in Baghdad. Maliki’s pledge comes as the estimated death toll from the shooting continues to rise. Iraqi officials now say as many 28 Iraqis were killed when Blackwater guards opened fire. The initial estimate was of nine dead. On Wednesday, Maliki said Iraq would not allow the killing of Iraqis "in cold blood." He also called on the Bush administration to cut ties with Blackwater. The shooting has put new scrutiny on the free reign companies like Blackwater enjoy in Iraq. The State Department says its formed a joint committee with Iraqi officials to suggest ways to improve regulation of private military firms.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans have blocked an amendment to restore the right of habeas corpus to prisoners in the so-called war on terror. Prisoners were stripped of their right to challenge their detentions under the Military Commissions Act passed last year. Supporters of the measure fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to move to a final vote. Six Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of the amendment.
Senate Republicans also blocked a measure that would haven given U.S. troops longer rest periods in between deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote had been seen as one of the best chances to force President Bush to withdraw troops because of its bipartisan appeal. The final vote was 56 to 44. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said: "Our Republican colleagues are more interested in protecting our president than our troops."
The United Nations is asking Israel to reconsider its decision to declare Gaza an "enemy entity" and deprive it of water, power and fuel. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Israel that cutting off Gaza would violate international humanitarian law. Palestinians say the move amounts to collective punishment. Israel says its acts are justified because of Palestinian rocket fire.
The Bush administration is backing Israel’s stance. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel Wednesday for talks ahead of a proposed peace conference in November. Rice said the U.S. supports the intensified isolation of Gaza.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "We will not abandon the innocent Palestinians in Gaza, and indeed we’ll make every effort to deal with their humanitarian needs, and secondly, that Gaza and the West Bank are both constituent entities of the to-be Palestinian state. And so, that is not to say that Gaza is to be separated off somehow and treated as if it is, when the legitimate government of Gaza is ultimately that of the Palestinian Authority. But Hamas is indeed a hostile entity. It’s a hostile entity to the United States, as well."
In Lebanon, a prominent lawmaker has been killed in a car bombing in Beirut. Antoine Ghanem is the seventh anti-Syrian politician to be killed since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
In Brazil, some 10,000 people are taking part in a National Conference of Indigenous People. The week-long gathering centers around indigenous involvement in social welfare projects and the environment.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: "Here we have the opportunity, so rare in other countries, to see the people that haven’t renounced their past and history united in the determination to build a future of equilibrium and well-being for all."
In Iran, an Iranian-American scholar has been released from prison after four months behind bars. Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested in May. He is the third Iranian-American to be released from Iranian detention since Haleh Esfandiari was freed last month.
Activists in the military-ruled former Burma are defying government repression with a series of protests this week. On Tuesday, military forces used tear gas to break up a rally of more than 1,000 monks and civilians. The gathering was one of several organized as part of a nationwide campaign against the military regime.
Back in the United States, tens of thousands of people are expected in the tiny town of Jena, Louisiana, today for a rally in support of six African-American high school students facing jail time for a schoolyard fight. The Jena Six, as they’ve come to be known, have become a rallying point for civil rights activists across the country. On Wednesday, their defense got a boost when the rock legend David Bowie announced he would donate $10,000 to their legal fund. We’ll have more on the Jena Six after headlines.
The parents of the slain American peace activist Rachel Corrie have been denied an attempt to sue the manufacturer of the bulldozer that claimed her life. A federal appeals court has ruled Craig and Cindy Corrie can’t sue the Illinois-based Caterpillar because that would force the judiciary to rule on a foreign policy issue decided by the White House. In their ruling, the three-judge panel said the case can’t go to court "without implicitly questioning, and even condemning, United States foreign policy towards Israel." Rachel Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, in the Palestinian town of Rafah. An Israeli military-operated bulldozer ran her over as she stood in front of a Palestinian home set for demolition. She was wearing a fluorescent orange vest in full view of the bulldozer’s driver. The Corries want Caterpillar held liable on grounds it knew the bulldozers were to be used to demolish homes in violation of international law. Caterpillar based its defense on proving the bulldozers were in fact paid for by U.S. military aid to Israel. The Corries say they will continue to challenge Caterpillar and the U.S. government.
In California, a jury has deadlocked in the trial of the animal rights activist Rod Coronado. Coronado was accused of incitement to violence for a speech he gave in San Diego four years ago. The jury reportedly voted in the majority for an acquittal. A hearing is set for later this month to decide whether the case will continue.
Republican Congressmember Peter King of New York is coming under criticism for saying there are too many mosques in the United States. King made the comment in a taped interview with the newspaper Politico.
Rep. Peter King: "Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country. There’s too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully. We should be finding out how we can infiltrate. We should be much more aggressive in law enforcement."
And the ex-CBS news anchor Dan Rather has filed a $75 million lawsuit against his former employer and its parent company Viacom. Rather says he was made a "scapegoat" for his controversial report on President Bush’s service in the National Guard. Rather reported that President Bush received preferential treatment in the early 1970s. He used as evidence copies of memos that had been provided to the network by a confidential source. Rather later retracted the claim after the validity of the memos came under attack. Rather says CBS and Viacom made him take the fall to appease the White House.