Five people have been killed in another unilateral US attack in Pakistan. The deaths came just hours after the US pledged to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty in future strikes. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Pakistan to vow consultations before launching attacks. Controversy has erupted after it was revealed last week the Bush administration has explicitly approved US ground attacks in Pakistan without the Pakistani government’s prior approval.
Mullen’s attempt to neutralize Pakistani opposition came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a similar visit to Afghanistan. Speaking in Kabul, Gates apologized for last month’s massive US air strike that killed an estimated ninety Afghan civilians, including some sixty children.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "I think the key for us is, on those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, is to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly and then carry out the investigation. And I think that that’s the approach that we’ve had in Iraq, and I think we need to move to that here."
Gates’ apology marked a stark reversal from the initial US reaction. For weeks, the US has denied a massive civilian death toll, insisting only five civilians were killed. Gates spoke hours after four members of the US-led occupation force were killed in a roadside bombing.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is reportedly seeking to exert complete control over the NATO occupation of Afghanistan. According to the Independent of London, the US is pushing for changes that would have the head of the multinational force report directly to US Central Command instead of NATO. The US proposal is likely to attract controversy in other coalition countries including Britain, Italy, Germany and Canada.
In Iraq, seven US troops have died in a helicopter crash near the southern city of Basra. Pentagon officials are blaming a mechanical failure.
In other Iraq news, three US troops have been charged in the killing of four Iraqi prisoners. Two of the soldiers have reportedly admitted to shooting the handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners and moving their bodies into a Baghdad canal. Another four soldiers face charges for conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. The shootings took place around April of last year.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Senate has passed another massive war spending bill. The measure would allocate $70 billion to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote was 88-to-8.
In Israel, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is claiming victory in the contest to replace Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as head of the Kadima party. Olmert is stepping down to face multiple corruption charges. Livni beat out her closest rival, Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by just hundreds of votes. Livni has been deeply involved in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority but has backed the Israeli government’s ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
New figures show hunger is on the rise worldwide. The United Nations says the number of people afflicted by acute hunger rose to 925 million last year — an increase of 75 million. The total is expected to top one billion by the end of this year amidst the ongoing hike in food prices. Food costs rose 12 percent in 2006, doubled to 24 percent in 2007, and doubled again to 50 percent in the first eight months of this year.
Back in the United States, environmental groups are voicing a mixed reaction to a Democratic-led resolution approving offshore oil drilling. On Tuesday, the House passed a measure that would allow drilling up to 100 miles off the US coastline. The resolution would overturn a federal moratorium in place since 1981. Organizations including the Center for American Progress and the Sierra Club are backing the Democratic measure, in part because it also calls for major initiatives on renewable energy. But groups including Environment America and the National Wildlife Federation say Democrats are endangering US coastal areas by allowing the drilling.
In other news from Washington, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy has broken a long silence on the anthrax mailing case. Leahy was one of two congressional recipients of the anthrax-laced letters shortly after the 9/11 attacks. On Wednesday, Leahy said he doesn’t believe the FBI’s contention former government scientist Bruce Ivins acted alone. Ivins committed suicide in July shortly before he was to be charged in the case.
And members of the American Psychological Association have approved a landmark vote banning participation in what many call government-sanctioned torture. In the largest turnout for an APA vote to date, nearly 60 percent of APA members backed a referendum banning participation in interrogations of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and the secret CIA black sites. The referendum was spawned by a dissident APA group called the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Dan Aalbers, a co-founder of the group who helped draft the referendum, said, "This new policy will ensure that psychologists work for the abused and not the abusers at places like Guantanamo Bay and the CIA black sites." The vote follows a lengthy struggle by the dissident members against the APA’s leadership. APA officials are already vowing to delay implementation of the referendum vote by up to a year.