In Iraq, a ten-year-old girl died Thursday after US soldiers shot her north of Baghdad. The Pentagon says the soldiers intended to fire a warning shot at a woman who was signaling someone.
Four US soldiers were also killed Wednesday, bringing the US toll this week to at least twelve. A new study says 28 percent of Americans are aware of the total number of soldiers killed in Iraq. The Pew Research Center found that nearly half of Americans think the US death toll from the last five years of the Iraq occupation is under 3,000, while the actual number is nearly 4,000.
US officials in Baghdad have received five severed fingers believed to belong to five captured security contractors, including four Americans. The contractors went missing after their convoy was attacked in November 2006.
The Bush administration is being accused of censorship after canceling plans to release an exhaustive review that found no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The Pentagon study analyzed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents captured following the US invasion of Iraq. The report was set to be posted online, and US officials were to be made available to discuss it. But the Pentagon now says the report won’t go online at all and will only be emailed to reporters that request copies. Next Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
In Afghanistan, at least forty alleged Taliban militants have been killed in clashes with NATO forces. In Kabul, eight Afghan civilians were killed when a suicide bomber targeted US soldiers. Thirty-five civilians were also wounded.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a five-day tacit truce between Israel and Hamas has collapsed. Five Palestinians militants were killed in the West Bank on Wednesday after coming under attack from undercover Israeli forces. Earlier today, Israeli fighter jets bombed northern Gaza after Palestinians fired rockets at Israeli towns. The shooting came hours after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh publicly outlined his terms for a permanent ceasefire with Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh: "There must be a commitment, in return (from the Israelis), to end its comprehensive aggression against our people, end assassinations and
killings and raids, ending all forms of aggression, lifting the siege and reopening the crossings. That’s the decision that was taken by the unity government in its political program."
Israel rejected the conditions and said it reserves the right to launch attacks.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced a boycott of the Arabic television network Al Jazeera. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Magali Whabe said Al Jazeera has displayed biased coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Magali Whabe: "We have sent a letter to the Authorities in Qatar and also to Al Jazeera regarding this matter. We do not want to deal with a channel that is not realistic and does not give a real picture to its viewers. If there is no change in the way they deal with us there, will be a reaction for us and we can take action."
Al Jazeera says it’s being shunned for accurate reporting. Palestine bureau chief Walid al-Umari said, “I dare any Israeli official to bring up what they call incitement or lies reported by Al Jazeera. What we reported were real facts on the ground.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered a mild criticism of ongoing Israeli settlement construction. Speaking before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Rice said Israel’s recent announcement to build hundreds of new homes in the Occupied Territories is inconsistent and unhelpful.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "The United States considers the expansion of settlement activity to be not consistent with Israeli obligations under the road map, and we’ve made that very clear. And I’ve also said that it’s certainly not helpful to the peace process. I can assure you that we are following very closely to assure that US dollars are not being used to support the settlement activity."
The Bush administration has refused to link billions of dollars in US aid to Israel’s halting of settlement construction. Israel has announced three different settlement expansions since resuming US-brokered peace talks with Palestinians last November. During her testimony, a row of protesters sitting behind Rice raised their hands, painted red to signify blood. As Rice left the chamber, several demonstrators called her a war criminal.
Britain is closing its doors to scores of asylum seekers from Iraq. The Guardian newspaper reports the British government has sent out letters to more than 1,400 Iraqi refugees ordering them to return to Iraq or face destitution in Britain. The letters say the Iraqis will have three weeks to sign up for a voluntary return, after which they could lose state support and end up homeless. The British government says it believes Iraq is now safe for the asylum seekers, but is still asking them to sign a waiver absolving Britain of responsibility for their plight once they return to Iraqi soil.
Meanwhile, European lawmakers have launched a campaign to stop the deportation of a gay Iranian man who faces the death penalty if returned home. Nineteen-year-old Seyed Mehdi Kazemi is in a Dutch immigration jail after fleeing his deportation from England. Kazemi says his boyfriend was hanged by the Iranian government for being gay. European Parliament member Sofia Veld said he should be allowed to stay in Europe.
European Parliament member Sofia Veld: "Well, my message to the Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown,would be to grant asylum to this young man, not send him back to Iran to his certain death."
On the campaign trail, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama traded barbs Wednesday over the possibility of a re-vote in Florida and Michigan. Both states have already held their nominating contests, but the Democratic National Committee refuses to seat their delegates after they moved up their primary dates. In Washington, Clinton said the vote should either be counted or redone.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "If you’re a voter from Florida or Michigan, you know that we should count your votes. The nearly two-and-a-half million Americans in those two states who participated in the primary elections are in danger of being excluded from our democratic process, and I think that’s wrong. The results of those primaries were fair, and they should be honored. Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion about what we should do to ensure that the voters in Florida and Michigan are counted. Well, in my view, there are two options: honor the results or hold new primary elections."
Clinton won the Michigan and Florida contests in January. But the votes were widely seen as meaningless, because none of the candidates campaigned in Florida, while Senator Barack Obama and John Edwards stayed off the ballot in Michigan. Speaking in Chicago, Obama said his campaign shouldn’t be punished for having played by the rules.
Sen. Barack Obama: "The Clinton campaign seems to want to make up rules as they go along on this issue. We’ve simply said we’ll play by whatever rules are established. That’s what we did with Florida and Michigan at the outset. We were told that they wouldn’t count. Senator Clinton agreed that they wouldn’t count, until she thought maybe they should count. My bottom line is, I do want to make sure that the Florida and Michigan delegations have an opportunity to participate at the convention, and we want to figure out an equitable way to do that, and our campaign is in ongoing conversations with the Michigan delegation, the Florida delegation, as well as the DNC [Democratic National Committee], to find that equitable solution, and I think it will be worked out."
Michigan and Florida officials continue to draft plans for a re-vote. In other campaign news, former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro has left the Clinton campaign over her controversial remarks on Obama’s candidacy. Ferraro told a California newspaper this week Obama is only a contender in the race because he is black. On Thursday, Ferraro refused to apologize for her remarks but said she is stepping down to avoid becoming a distraction. Her departure comes less than a week after Obama adviser Samantha Power resigned after she was quoted calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.”
Eliot Spitzer has resigned as New York’s governor just two days after it was reported he was a client in a high-end prostitution ring. At a news conference Wednesday, Spitzer stood next to his wife Silda to announce his departure.
Eliot Spitzer: "I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children."
Federal prosecutors have yet to file any charges against Spitzer amidst reports he’s negotiating a plea bargain. Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will be sworn in as Spitzer’s replacement on Monday. Paterson will become New York’s first African American governor and the first blind chief executive in the nation’s history.
The New York Times is reporting the Pentagon has identified nearly fifty new videotapes of CIA interrogations in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. The military began reviewing the tapes in January after the CIA admitted to destroying videotapes of interrogations. Meanwhile, lawyers for a prisoner in the so-called war on terror are asking the government to release tapes of his interrogation. Ali al-Marri has been jailed at a Navy brig in South Carolina since 2003. According to his lawyers, al-Marri says he’s been told there are cabinets full of tapes documenting his abuse at the hands of US officials.
President Bush is accusing the Venezuelan government of supporting terrorism in the ongoing fallout from Colombia’s cross-border attack on FARC rebels earlier this month. On Wednesday, Bush said Latin Americans should reject what he called "the vision of the terrorists.”
President Bush: “The stakes are high in South America. As the recent standoff in the Andes shows, the region is facing an increasingly stark choice: to quietly
accept the vision of the terrorists and the demagogues or to actively support democratic leaders like President Uribe. I’ve made my choice. I’m standing with courageous leadership that believes in freedom and peace."
Chavez has called for negotiations with the FARC to resolve Colombia’s internal crisis.
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a modest increase in standards regulating smog. The EPA will allow the amount of pollution forming ozone in the air to be seventy-five parts-per-billion. Government scientists had urged the agency to set higher standards to fight unhealthy air pollution.
Jailed Palestinian professor Dr. Sami al-Arian has been transferred to a prison medical facility on the ninth day of a hunger strike. Al-Arian has lost twenty-three pounds this week. He had been scheduled to be released on April 7th, but the Justice Department has just requested he testify before a third grand jury, a move that could potentially keep the former Florida professor behind bars.
And former Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum has died at the age of ninety. A former labor lawyer and union lobbyist from Ohio, Metzenbaum was considered a strong advocate for workers. He was instrumental in passing a law requiring sixty-day notice of plant closings.