The Los Angeles Times reports a top government scientist has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the 2001 anthrax attacks. The attacks killed five people and crippled the national mail service. According to the report, the scientist Bruce Ivins had recently been informed of his prosecution in the anthrax case. Ivins had worked for the past eighteen years at the government’s elite biodefense research labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Ivins had never been previously identified as a suspect. He was actually part of a team that helped the government investigate the anthrax attacks after Sept. 11.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed the Bush administration recently held a meeting in Vice President Cheney’s office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran. Hersh said it was considered during the meeting to stage an incident where it would appear that Iranian boats had attacked US forces in the Straits of Hormuz.
Seymour Hersh: "There was a dozen ideas proffered how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was, why don’t we build — we, in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats, put Navy Seals on them with a lot of arms, and, the next time one of our boats goes through the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected, because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. But that’s the kind of — that’s the level of stuff we are talking about: provocation. But that was rejected."
Seymour Hersh discussed the report during a recent interview at the Campus Progress journalism conference.
Aid agencies in Afghanistan say violence has reached its worst level since 2001 with more than 260 civilians killed in July alone. The aid agencies say they may become unable to operate in parts of Afghanistan because of the increasing violence. The groups criticized the rising number of civilian deaths caused by both the Taliban and US-led NATO air strikes. The aid groups said the number of US and NATO air strikes have increased by about 40 percent since last year.
Nineteen aid workers have been killed so far this year — more than during all of 2007.
On Thursday, President Bush discussed the improving security situation in Iraq but never mentioned the war in Afghanistan. Bush said the increased stability in Iraq would allow the withdrawal of more American forces.
President Bush: "We now brought home all five of the combat brigades and the three Marine units that were sent to Iraq as part of the surge. The last of these surge brigades returned home this month. And later this year, General Petraeus will present me his recommendations on future troop levels, including further reductions in our combat forces as conditions permit."
In other Iraq news, the US military has detained an Iraqi photographer who works for the Reuters news agency, as well as BBC and National Public Radio. Ali al-Mashhadani was detained in the Green Zone on Saturday while he was applying for a US military press card. Reuters is urging the US military to immediately release him or to publicly produce evidence to justify his detention.
In business news, Exxon Mobil has broken its own profit record by making $11.7 billion during the second quarter — the most profitable quarter for any business in history. This means Exxon Mobil made about $90,000 per minute. Despite the record, Exxon Mobil’s profit fell short of Wall Street estimates, and the company’s stock fell about two percent. Meanwhile, analysts say Exxon Mobil spent just one percent of its $41 billion in profits last year on alternative energy sources.
Senator John McCain’s campaign has accused Senator Barack Obama of playing “the race card,” after comments Obama made at a campaign rally. McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis said, “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.” Davis was referring to comments that Obama made on Wednesday when he suggested Republicans were trying to scare voters away from him. Obama said, “So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He’s risky. That’s essentially the argument they’re making.”
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic appeared for the first time before a UN war crimes judge in The Hague on Thursday. Judge Alphons Orie laid out the charges.
Judge Alphons Orie: "Mr. Karadzic, you are charged with one count of genocide under Article 4 of the statute of the International Tribunal, with one count of complicity in genocide under Article 4 of the statute, with five counts of crimes against humanity under Article 5 of the statute, and with four counts of war crimes under Articles 2 and 3 of the statute."
Karadzic said he would enter a plea, after studying the charges.
Radovan Karadzic: "I have to say, this is a question of life and death. If Mr. Holbrooke still wants my death and regrets there is no capital punishment, I am wondering if his arm is long enough to reach me, even here."
Thousands of politicians, aid workers and activists are gathering in Mexico for an international conference on AIDS. The UN reported this week that the number of AIDS deaths fell for the second straight year. An estimated two million people succumbed to the disease in 2007. On Thursday, the executive director of UNAIDS, Dr. Peter Piot, said that the global food crisis was affecting the fight against AIDS.
Dr. Peter Piot: "The current food crisis, which is true in many, many countries — and the poorer you are, the more affected you are by that — is affecting also the fight against AIDS. And we have the paradoxical situation that some people have access to pretty expensive and sophisticated drugs but have no food to eat, nothing to eat, or don’t have the money to take the bus to go to the [medical] center and have no job."
The Washington Post reports federal border agents are now allowed to take and search a traveler’s laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Under the Department of Homeland Security, policy officials may also share copies of the device’s contents with other agencies. The policy applies to anyone entering the country, including US citizens. Senator Russ Feingold described the border policy as truly alarming. The policy covers any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form, as well as all papers and other written documentation.
A federal judge has ordered former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. The judge rejected the Bush administration’s broad claims of executive privilege in its fight with Congress.
And finally, NASA scientists have announced they have definitive proof that water exists on Mars, after further tests on ice found on the planet in June by the Phoenix Mars Lander. The Phoenix Lander touched down in May on an ice sheet, and samples of the ice were seen melting away in photographs taken by the Lander’s instruments in June. Peter Smith is the principal scientist on the Phoenix Mars Lander project.
Peter Smith: "Through this analysis, we also hope to be able to answer a question that goes beyond just finding water ice, but is this a habitable zone on Mars? 'Habitable zone' meaning that we have periodic liquid water, not today but over time, and we have the materials that are the basic ingredients for lifeforms. It will be for a future mission to find if anybody’s home in this environment."