In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least twenty Palestinians have been killed in the latest Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s Interior Ministry building was destroyed in an overnight strike. A six-month-old Palestinian boy was killed and twenty-five people were injured in the densely populated neighborhood nearby. Earlier in the day, at least ten Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed in other Israeli attacks. The victims included a nine-year-old boy and a seventeen-year-old teenager. The strikes followed a Palestinian rocket attack that killed an Israeli college student in the town of Sderot. The victim was the fourteenth Israeli to die in Palestinian rocket attacks in the last seven years. Israeli government spokesperson Aryeh Mekel vowed to continue military attacks on Gaza.
Aryeh Mekel: “Let there be no mistake about it, Israel will take the necessary steps. Our war on terror will continue until we put an end to these murderous attacks by the Hamas and its associates from the Gaza Strip."
A new opinion poll shows 64 percent of Israelis favor a ceasefire with Hamas — the highest majority to date. Hamas has made several proposals for a truce but the Israeli government has rejected its overtures.
In Afghanistan, the US military has labeled a journalist for a Canadian television network an enemy combatant. Jawed Ahmad was seized in October and jailed without charge at Bagram Airbase. At least two other journalists are imprisoned in US jails. Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Hajj is jailed at Guantanamo Bay, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein is being detained in Iraq.
The top US intelligence official has admitted the Afghan government controls less than one-third of its territory. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell said Afghan President Hamid Karzai controls up to 31 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls ten percent. Last year was Afghanistan’s deadliest on record since the US invasion in 2001.
A top Army official said he believes the interrogation practice known as waterboarding is inhumane. Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples was also speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Maples’s statement would appear to contradict the stance of the Bush administration, which has refused to declare waterboarding illegal. Inhumane treatment is barred under US law.
In Colombia, four hostages were freed Wednesday after more than six years in rebel captivity. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, released the hostages to Venezuelan officials. Freed hostage Luis Eladio Perez thanked the Venezuelan government.
Luis Eladio Perez: “I want to give President Hugo Chavez and all the Venezuelan people my most sincere thanks, who, with our Senator Piedad Cordoba, have been working for the FARC to understand and take these unilateral steps to free the people who have been subject to this torture for more than seven years in the Colombian jungle."
Two FARC hostages were released last month in a deal also brokered by Venezuela.
President Bush says the US is close to reaching a deal that would place part of a planned missile shield in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic would host a radar site, while the US would install at least ten missiles in Poland. At the White House, Bush said he is “three words” away from an agreement with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He also dismissed Russia’s concern that the system would threaten peace.
President Bush: “It’s in our interest to put defenses in place to deal with the true threats of the twenty-first century. Russia is not a threat to peace. Regimes that adhere to extremist ideologies, who — which may have the capability of launching, you know, weapons to those of us who love freedom, they’re the threats to peace."
Critics say the US is pushing the missile system as a first-strike weapon against Iran. Public opinion polls continue to show majority opposition in both Poland and the Czech Republic.
The head of Iraq’s largest journalism organization has died four days after he was shot in Baghdad. Shihab al-Tamimi was seventy-four years old. He was an independent journalist known as an outspoken opponent of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Al-Tamimi’s nephew, Alaa, said his uncle was deliberately murdered.
Alaa Al-Tamimi: “It was an assassination attempt on his life and his son’s life. He received a call on his mobile asking him to come to the Hiwar Gallery, and on the way gunmen opened fire on them."
More than 170 journalists and support workers have been killed in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003.
In other Iraq news, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given Turkey the green light to continue its offensive in northern Iraq. In Ankara Thursday, Gates said Turkey should finish the operation as soon as possible but did not specify any consequences if it fails to comply. Turkey says it has killed more than a hundred Kurdish militants during its week-long attack.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Japan Wednesday, where she apologized for the alleged rape of a Japanese girl by a US marine. The alleged crime occurred on the southern island of Okinawa, where 20,000 US troops are based.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “The incident of Okinawa and the incident of that kind, I have given our deepest regrets. You can be certain that we have no desire to see this sort of things happen, and so the United States is going to be very active with the Japanese government in trying to prevent incidents in the future. I should mention also that, of course, we want to see justice done, and of course that process will continue, as well."
Another US servicemember was arrested earlier this month for allegedly assaulting a Filipino woman at an Okinawa hotel.
One of Britain’s most popular musicians is getting behind a Europe-wide campaign to force mandatory caps on emissions of carbon dioxide. Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke says cutting emissions is a matter of global survival.
Thom Yorke: “We’re the oldest economies in the carbon sense of the word, and we have a moral responsibility, each and everyone of us, to not just do stuff on our own, because that’s not good enough. We have a moral responsibility to turn around and change the way we live. And the only way we’re ever going to change the way we live is to get our governments to re-write laws, gradually make us change in a way that we can understand, in a way that we can cope with. If we don’t do it, that’s it.’’
The Friends of the Earth’s “Big Ask Europe” campaign seeks a 30 percent emissions cut by 2020 and a 90 percent cut by 2050.
Back in the United States, candlelight vigils continue across the country for a gay teenager murdered in an apparent hate crime. Fourteen-year-old Lawrence King of Oxnard, California was declared brain-dead on February 13th, one day after a classmate shot him twice in the head during a morning class. The suspect, fourteen-year-old Brandon David McInerney, has been charged with murder and a hate crime. Students at the school say King was often taunted over his sexuality. McInerney and other male students had apparently confronted him on other occasions. King was living in a shelter for abused and troubled children at the time of his murder. A memorial website has been established at rememberinglawrence.com.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments in ExxonMobil’s attempt to overturn a $2.5 billion punitive judgment for the 1989 Alaska oil spill. Exxon is seeking annulment of the damages, already halved from $5 billion by a lower court two years ago. Brian O’Neill is the lawyer for more than 32,000 Alaska residents seeking damages from Exxon.
Brian O’Neill: “Punitive damages are not only for deterrence. They’re also for punishment. And these guys have not been punished one bit. Even today, they think that they’ve done nothing wrong. So, punishment is needed. And if you hurt 32,000 people, you hurt the livelihoods of 32,000 people, you rip apart the economy of South-Central Alaska, then you ought to be punished severely. Hopefully, they will be punished."
Exxon has already paid more than $3 billion in penalties, but the $2.5 billion would go towards residents’ long-term damage. Earlier this month, Exxon reported a quarterly profit of $11.7 billion — the highest ever for an American company. Justice Samuel Alito has recused himself from the hearings because he owns ExxonMobil stock.
Meanwhile, Exxon has been hit with another lawsuit in Alaska. Native American residents from the island village of Kivalina are suing Exxon and twenty-three other energy companies for the erosion of their village. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in a US District Court, lawyers for the federally recognized tribe argued that the companies have contributed to global warming that is causing the village to flood and forcing residents to relocate.
Three activists were arrested Tuesday after they shut down a New York building containing one of Senator Hillary Clinton’s offices. The activists chained themselves to the building’s doors. They denounced Clinton for supporting the Peru free trade agreement while campaigning as an opponent of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Adam Weissman of the Wetlands’ Activist Collective spoke while chained to a door.
Adam Weissman: "Hillary Clinton is a hypocrite. She’s telling us that NAFTA needs to be reformed at the same time she supported a free trade agreement that is just as bad as NAFTA and in many ways worse — for workers, for the environment, for family farmers, for people with AIDS. Hillary Clinton now thinks it’s a good soundbite to oppose NAFTA when it helps her in the primaries. But when it really mattered, she stood in support of a free trade agreement that will doom the Amazon rainforest, that will kill people with AIDS by denying them access to life-saving medications."
In December, the Democratic Senate approved the Peru free trade deal by a vote of seventy-seven to eighteen. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama missed the vote but expressed their support for the deal. Last week in Peru, farmers held a two-day national strike to protest the pending trade deal. Four farmers died, and 700 were arrested.
On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama has picked up two key defections from Senator Hillary Clinton. On Wednesday, Democratic Congressmember and civil rights leader John Lewis of Georgia said he is switching support from Clinton to Obama. Lewis’s constituents voted roughly three-to-one in favor of Obama in this month’s primary. Meanwhile, Obama has also picked up the support of Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson, a boost ahead of next week’s key Texas primary.
The Bush administration has announced it will delay the virtual US-Mexico border fence for another three years. The virtual-barrier south of Tucson, Arizona includes tower-mounted sensors and surveillance. At a hearing yesterday, officials from the Department of Homeland Security described mounting technical problems, including issues with software provided by the defense contractor Boeing. The company was paid $20.6 million for the project in December. The Department of Homeland Security will give Boeing an additional $65 million to replace their software.
And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ended speculation he’ll enter the 2008 presidential race. Writing in today’s New York Times, Bloomberg said he will not run as an independent candidate. Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Ralph Nader has scheduled a news conference for later today to announce his vice-presidential running mate. Nader declared his candidacy earlier this week.