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In Colombia, fifteen hostages held by the rebel group FARC have been rescued in an elaborate military operation. In a year-long effort, Colombian forces infiltrated FARC and ultimately fooled the rebels into thinking they were transferring the hostages to another location. The French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors were among those freed. The contractors had been captured since 2003 after their surveillance plane crashed in the Colombian jungle. After an emotional return to the Colombian capital of Bogota, Bentancourt thanked the Colombian government and reflected on her time in captivity.
Ingrid Betancourt: “I kept playing the movie over in my head many times. Had I been pressured? Had I been stubborn? Today, with the perspective of years behind
me, I feel it was my destiny. I feel that I had to live through what I lived through, that I had to find out what I found out, I have a Ph.D. in the FARC that I hope will be useful to those of us who want to help with all this. I think there are moments in life in which one is at a crossroads between what one wants to do and what one has to do."
The rescue operation is widely seen as a major blow to the FARC rebels. The fifteen freed prisoners were the most high-profile of hundreds the FARC has held in the hopes of securing the release of captured rebels and achieving other political demands. Three senior FARC leaders have died this year. At her news conference, Betancourt was asked about FARC’s future.
Ingrid Betancourt: “I don’t want to answer that question from an emotional perspective, because this is such a big blow to the FARC that it would be easy to say that the FARC is destroyed. I simply want to give you testimony of what I lived through. Since a year ago, it has been hard for supplies to arrive. We have had little to eat, very little variety in the food, no fruit, no greens. That’s a signal that the logistics could be going through difficulty."
Critics are warning the rescue mission could help deflect attention from a series of controversies surrounding Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the extensive US military aid to his government. In a statement, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs said, “Mindless U.S. support of a regime that tacitly allowed [paramilitary] groups to function should not be applauded nor should the hundreds of trade union leaders that have been murdered during the Uribe presidency be forgotten.”
The rescue mission came as Senator John McCain was in Colombia on his first Latin American visit since wrapping up the Republican presidential nomination. McCain later revealed Colombian President Uribe had briefed him on the plans to free the hostages. Earlier in the day, McCain called for maintaining US aid to Colombia and Mexico.
Sen. John McCain: “I would like to see our continued assistance to countries like Colombia and Mexico. We have just reached an agreement with Mexico to try to do what is best for America, and that would be to stem the flow of cocaine."
McCain arrived in Mexico last night, where he concludes his three-day trip. Meanwhile, McCain has ordered a new shake-up of his campaign team. On Wednesday, McCain demoted campaign manager Rick Davis in favor of political adviser Steve Schmidt. Schmidt becomes the third person in the last year to manage McCain’s presidential bid. Schmidt directed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign and was a top aide to Vice President Cheney.
President Bush has again renewed a longstanding threat to attack Iran. On Wednesday, Bush said “all options are on the table” to confront Iran over its nuclear program.
President Bush: “I have always said that all options are on the table, but the first option for the United States is to solve this problem diplomatically. I’ve also made it clear that you can’t solve a problem diplomatically unless
there are other people at the table with you, and that is why we have been pursuing multilateral diplomacy when it comes to convincing the Iranians that the free world is sincere about, you know, insisting that they not have
the technologies necessary to develop a nuclear weapon, and we’re making progress along those lines."
Critics have accused Bush and other top US politicians of violating the UN Charter barring the threat of force against other states. Bush’s comments come one day after Iran appeared to welcome a new breakthrough in ongoing talks. On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is seriously considering a new offer from the US and five other countries that he called “constructive.”
New questions are being raised over how a personal friend of President Bush secured an oil contract with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq last year. On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee said Bush administration officials knew the Texas-based Hunt Oil was planning on signing the deal, despite official US policy to discourage agreements that would undermine Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. Iraqi officials condemned the deal as illegal because Iraq still lacks a comprehensive oil law. Newly released documents show US officials did nothing to oppose the deal and even appeared to encourage it. Hunt CEO Ray Hunt has been a key Republican fundraiser. He sits on the board of directors for Halliburton and is a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under an appointment from President Bush. The disclosure comes amidst new controversy over the Bush administration’s admitted role in drafting no-bid contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies.
The nation’s top military officer is warning the occupation of Iraq is undermining US efforts in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon does not have sufficient forces in Afghanistan because of troop commitments in Iraq. Last month was the deadliest for US troops in Afghanistan since the October 2001 invasion.
The US and Poland have finalized details of an agreement that would station a US missile system on Polish soil. The deal awaits final approval from Polish lawmakers. Ten ballistic missiles would be based in Poland, along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. Majorities in both Poland and the Czech Republic oppose the missile plan, which is widely seen as a first-strike threat against Iran.
The Bureau of Land Management has reversed a recently imposed moratorium on the construction of new solar energy projects on public land. Government officials had said they needed the freeze to study the solar projects’ environmental impact on land in Arizona, Nevada, California and other western states. Critics had warned the moratorium could have paralyzed the solar energy industry.
In Arizona, a South Korean immigrant has been released from an immigration jail after agreeing to drop all claims against the government for denying her proper medical care. Yong Sun Harvill’s release came as part of a settlement in a suit against the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The suit had accused ICE officials of denying Harvill’s basic human needs and endangering her life.
A new federal study says cheap materials and poor oversight exposed thousands of evacuees to toxic levels of formaldehyde in government-issued trailers following Hurricane Katrina. Researchers found toxic levels at between four to eleven times higher than those in average US homes. At least one death has been linked to toxic exposure in the Katrina evacuee trailers. More than 11,000 health complaints were filed over the trailers, leading government officials to move more than 4,000 families.
And in media news, the Los Angeles Times has announced plans to lay off 250 employees, most of them in the newsroom. Nationwide, more than 1,000 jobs have been cut from seven major newspapers in the past week.