Initial reports say the planned Russian handover of a key Georgian city appears to have broken down. Several explosions have been heard around Gori, the site of intense fighting between Russian and Georgian troops over the past week. The conflict erupted after Georgia sought to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia through military attack. Russia has responded with crushing force inside Georgian territory. Hundreds have been killed and an estimated 100,000 displaced.
On Wednesday, President Bush announced a massive humanitarian airlift to Georgia using the US military. Speaking from the White House, President Bush blamed Russia for the crisis.
President Bush: “In recent years, Russia has sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the twenty-first century. The United States has supported those efforts. Now, Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions."
The intent of the US airlift came under question after the US-backed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the US is readying to take over airports and ports in Georgia. The Bush administration has denied the claim. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the US to drop support for the Georgian government.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "We understand that this current Georgian leadership is a special project of the United States, but one day the United States will have to choose between defending its prestige over a virtual project or real partnership which requires joint action."
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain is coming under increasing criticism over his top foreign policy adviser’s business ties to the Georgian government. The adviser, Randy Scheunemann, is a part owner of the lobbying firm Orion Strategies. The Washington Post has revealed Scheunemann briefed McCain before an April phone call with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili the same day Orion signed a $200,000 contract to advise Saakashvili’s government. Scheunemann then helped McCain draft a strong statement of support for Georgia.
Meanwhile, McCain appeared to make a new campaign gaffe Wednesday when he claimed he doesn’t support the right of nations to invade other nations.
Sen. John McCain: “I want to have a dialogue with the Russians. I want them to get out of Georgian territory as quickly as possible. And I am interested in good relations between the United States and Russia. But in the twenty-first century, nations don’t invade other nations.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, thousands of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah for the state funeral of the poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish died on Saturday from complications following heart surgery in Houston. Considered one of the most important Arab poets, he was designated the Palestinian poet laureate. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was among those to honor his memory.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "We bid farewell to a star, whom we loved to the point of adoration. After the 9th of August was a bright day in the Palestinian culture and history and humanity when this stubborn knight stepped away from poetry and literature to leave in us a sun that does not set and a river that does not stop flowing with goodness and humanity and hope."
Mahmoud Darwish is the first Palestinian to receive a state funeral since Yasser Arafat in 2004.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced it won’t prosecute soldiers involved in the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana and eight Palestinian youths. The twenty-four-year-old Palestinian died on April 16th in Gaza when an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle clearly marked "press." Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell just before the camera went black. The other eight victims were aged between twelve and twenty years old. Israel says it won’t prosecute, because the soldiers were justified in opening fire. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald criticized the decision.
Alastair Macdonald: "We’re extremely disappointed. This report appears to condone the use of deadly force in a situation where the soldiers could not be, and admit they were not, certain of what they were looking at. We believe that there were grounds for them to realize that they were looking at a journalist. This puts us in the position where journalists cannot raise a camera in the presence of Israeli soldiers without the risk of being fired on. And we find that unacceptable, and we’re going to be discussing with the Israeli officials how we can improve the safety of our journalists in the future."
Canada has ordered the deportation of the American war resister Jeremy Hinzman. Hinzman was the first war resister to seek asylum in Canada instead of going to fight in Iraq. He has lived in Canada for more than four years. Canadian officials have given Hinzman until September 23rd to leave the country. Hinzman faces a court-martial and up to five years in prison back in the United States.
A former employee allegedly raped by co-workers at the US war contractor KBR has sued the US government for negligence. The plaintiff, Jamie Leigh Jones, says she was drugged and gang-raped by co-workers in Iraq. Jones has accused KBR and the US government of covering up the crime. Jones’s earlier lawsuit against KBR is pending.
The gun control advocacy organization CeaseFire Pennsylvania has expelled a member of its board after she was identified as a paid operative for the National Rifle Association. Mother Jones magazine recently revealed Mary Lou Sapone infiltrated several gun control advocacy organizations over the past decade while using her maiden name Mary McFate. So far, neither the NRA nor Sapone have commented on the report. Meanwhile, Mother Jones reports Sapone’s son, Sean McFate, has recently resigned from his position as the program director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a national security think tank in Washington. Mother Jones had revealed that Sean, as well as his wife Montgomery McFate, once worked for Sapone’s domestic intelligence-gathering business.
In Denver, the local CBS News affiliate has revealed city police have set up dozens of metal cages inside a warehouse to hold jailed protesters at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. The five-by-five-yard cages are made out of chain link fence material and secured by rolls of barbed wire. A sign reads “Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility.” Protesters have dubbed the site “Gitmo on the Platte,” a reference to the Guantanamo Bay prison and the Platte River.
Meanwhile, here in New York, a federal judge has rejected the city’s bid to avoid handing over information it collected from spying on protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention. The New York Civil Liberties Union has sought the surveillance documents on behalf of arrested protesters to prove they were unlawfully arrested. The city had claimed information collected from spying justified making the arrests with issuing summonses.
In New Orleans, a judge has thrown out murder charges against seven police officers in the deadly shooting of two people after Hurricane Katrina. The victims, forty-two-year-old Ronald Madison and nineteen-year-old James Brissette, were crossing the Danziger Bridge when they came between a gun battle between a group of armed assailants and the seven officers. Madison, who was mentally handicapped, was shot seven times, including five times in his back. In his dismissal, District Judge Raymond Bigelow said prosecutors violated state law by divulging grand jury testimony to a witness.
And in Arkansas, the chair of the state Democratic Party has died after being shot at party headquarters in Little Rock. Bill Gwatney, a former state senator, was forty-eight. Terry Hastings of the Little Rock Police Department said the motive is unclear.
Terry Hastings: "We are not sure of a motive right now for the shooting or what caused it or if he was looking for any particular person. That’s something detectives will be determining. We have approximately fifteen to twenty witnesses that we are interviewing, but right now that’s about all we are willing to release at this point, until such time as we find out the condition of the suspect, as well as a possible motive."
The gunman, Timothy Dale Johnson, later died in a shootout with police.