The United States declared a "public health emergency" Sunday after twenty cases of swine flu were confirmed in the country, including eight in New York City. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the emergency declaration sounds more severe than it really is. She said, “It’s like declaring one for a hurricane. It means we can release funds and take other measures. The hurricane may not actually hit.” Civilian and military stockpiles of antiviral drugs are being prepared for rapid distribution in the event that transmission of swine flu virus accelerates. All of the reported cases in the United States have been relatively mild. In Mexico, officials have confirmed just twenty-two cases of swine flu, but the flu is suspected of killing as many 103 people and infecting more than 1,600. The World Health Organization urged increased surveillance for influenza worldwide. There have been no confirmed cases outside of North America, but there are growing fears that the world may be entering a global pandemic.
Influenza Specialist Dr. John McCauley: "That’s how a pandemic will start: a new virus emerging in humans, spreading easily from humans to humans, and, with modern travel, being able to spread around the world really very quickly."
Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization said the world is prepared for dealing with this situation.
Dr. Keiji Fukuda: "In the past five years, the world has spent a huge amount of effort, countries have worked very hard, to assess the threat of avian influenza. They have worked very hard on pandemic preparedness planning, and we have new tools, such as the international health regulations in place. We also have new defenses in place. We have better surveillance. We have stockpiles of anti-viral drugs that have been prepared at regions, as well as by internationally, in case of a pandemic situation."
In a surprise visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US may put off plans to withdraw its troops from urban areas by July 1st if renewed violence continues to worsen. Troops will now likely remain in Mosul and Baghdad after the deadline. Over 155 Iraqis have died in recent days in a series of suicide attacks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is threatening to prosecute US troops involved in a pre-dawn house raid on Sunday that killed two Iraqis in the town of Kut. The incident marks the first time Iraq’s government has called for the prosecution of US soldiers. Under the new US-Iraqi security pact, US troops in Iraq are no longer allowed to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval and coordination. The wife of one of the Iraqis killed denounced the US raid.
Wife of Iraqi Man Killed: "His brain was scattered on the ground, and I tried to collect it. The woman killed in the raid was still alive, and I tried to help her, but they killed her. They did not call a doctor to treat her. They killed her."
A former Marine corporal who fought in Afghanistan testified last week on Capitol Hill and urged lawmakers to oppose President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Rick Reyes said the war has turned into a “big mistake.”
Rick Reyes: "In some respects, this entire occupation has become counterproductive. As a Marine, I was willing to give my life for my country and still am. But invading and occupying Afghanistan, sending more troops to solve what is a political problem, is not the answer. I urge these senators to rethink Afghanistan, while there is still time. I can almost guarantee that sending more troops will mean more civilian and US troop casualties, not for war, but for occupation. Sending more troops will not make the US safer; it will only build more opposition against us. I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer."
Former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes also said the US occupation has unjustly targeted innocent Afghan civilians.
Rick Reyes: "Because our mission was to capture suspected Taliban and had no successful way of being able to distinguish them, we had no other choice but to suspect the entire civilian population, innocent or not. One day we stopped at gunpoint, detained and beating and nearly killing an innocent man only to find out he was just traveling down the road to deliver milk to his children. Because of that day, those kids went without a father. There were hundreds of incidents like this one. Almost 100 percent of the time, we would find that suspected terrorists turned out to be innocent civilians. It began to feel we were chasing ghosts."
At the same hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Retired US Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich said an escalation of troops will worsen the situation in Afghanistan.
Andrew Bacevich: "We may not believe that we are invading and occupying countries, but the people on the other end viewed, view themselves as being invaded and occupied. So, to some degree, to some measurable degree, in places like Afghanistan, increasing the US presence actually increases the dimensions of the problem."
The Sri Lankan government has dismissed a unilateral ceasefire declared by the Tamil Tigers. Pro-Tamil websites say the Sri Lankan military is continuing to attack an area where at least 50,000 civilians remain trapped. But the Sri Lankan military claims it has stopped using heavy weapons in the region. The UN is estimating as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed so far this year in Sri Lanka. Another 14,000 have been wounded.
The Washington Post reports the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border under a $350 million initiative that would expand the US military’s role in the drug war. Last week, the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas sent a joint letter to Congress requesting additional troops for the four Southwestern border states under the National Guard Counterdrug Program.
The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for prisoners referred to the application of extreme duress as "torture" in a July 2002 document and warned that it would produce "unreliable information." This according to the Washington Post. In an unsigned memo, the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said, "The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel.”
The Los Angeles Times reports the CIA never sought a rigorous assessment of whether its use of torture during interrogations was effective or necessary. In 2003, the agency’s inspector general circulated drafts of a report that raised deep concerns about waterboarding and other methods, but the CIA ignored his recommendation to conduct a study by outside experts on whether the interrogation tactics worked.
The Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa is reporting an Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area. Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock in Sudan.
A new ABC/Washington Post poll has found 51 percent of Americans support an investigation of whether Bush administration officials broke the law. But on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested President Obama opposes the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture.
Robert Gibbs: "Well, I think the President had great fears that the debate that you’ve seen happen in this town on each side of this issue, at the extremes, has — that’s taken place, would be what would envelop any commission that looked backward. That’s why his focus, David, the whole time is how we look forward in this country."
A coalition of leftist parties has won control of Iceland’s government for the first time in the country’s history. The coalition between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement took thirty-four seats in the sixty-three-member parliament. The previous government in Iceland fell after the country’s economy collapsed. The IMF is predicting Iceland’s economy will shrink by about ten percent this year.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Obama administration has asked Congress for minor changes in US law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government. Under the existing law, any US aid would require that the Palestinian government meet three longstanding criteria: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Former Vice President Al Gore has accused the largest corporate carbon polluters in the country of committing a massive fraud. On Friday, the New York Times revealed an influential energy industry coalition went ahead in 1995 with an aggressive lobbying campaign to refute the idea that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming in direct contradiction to the conclusion of its own scientists. Al Gore testified on Friday on Capitol Hill.
Al Gore: "These large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff’s fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted. And like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money."
The New York Times reports informal meetings are being planned between State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States in order to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues. The Obama administration is also reportedly looking for ways to open channels for more cultural and academic exchanges between Cuba and the United States.
In other news from Latin America, voters in Ecuador have re-elected President Rafael Correa by a large margin. Preliminary results show Correa won 51 percent of the vote. His closest challenger won 29 percent.
And an Air France flight from Paris to Mexico was barred from flying over the United States last week because one of the plane’s passengers was a prominent reporter whose name appears on the US no-fly list. The plane was forced to divert to the French Caribbean island of Martinique before continuing its journey. The reporter, Hernando Calvo Ospina, is a Colombian-born journalist who writes for the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. He has frequently written articles denouncing the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the role of the United States in Latin America.