Estimates of Afghan Toll Rise in US Bombing
Estimates of the dead from Monday’s US bombing of the Afghan province of Farah are now reaching as high as 200. Images released from the area show villagers sorting through the rubble of the devastating attack. An unidentified village elder said he had lost dozens of relatives.
Villager: "We have discovered dead bodies of fifty-two people. There might be still more bodies undiscovered. These martyred people were civilian residents of this area. All these fifty-two martyred are either my nephews, nieces or my grandchildren."
The Red Cross has confirmed "dozens" of civilians were killed, including many women and children. The attack could prove to be the deadliest US bombing of Afghan civilians since the US invasion of 2001. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed US regret.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "I wish to express, you know, my personal regret and certainly the sympathy of our administration on the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. We deeply regret it. We don’t know all of the circumstances or causes. And there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours. But any loss of life, any loss of innocent life, is particularly painful."
The US military is suggesting it has evidence showing the victims were actually killed by Taliban grenades, but hasn’t offered any proof.
Obama Hosts Karzai, Zardari at White House
Karzai was in Washington along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The two leaders later met President Obama, who said they all face the same enemy in the Taliban.
President Obama: "The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States are linked. In the weeks that have followed, that truth has only been reinforced. Al-Qaeda and its allies have taken more lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have continued to challenge the democratically elected governments of the two presidents standing here today. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda plots against the American people and people around the world from their safe haven along the border."
Zardari and Karzai’s visit to Washington comes as lawmakers take up an Obama administration request for $2.3 billion in aid to Pakistan and more than $800 million in military assistance for Afghanistan. In a split with Democratic leaders, House Appropriations Chair David Obey is proposing the US condition the funding on the Afghan and Pakistani governments’ ability to meet several benchmarks.
At Least 12 Killed in Iraq Bombings
In Iraq, at least twelve people were killed Wednesday in two separate bombings in Baghdad. Most of the victims died in an attack on a crowded vegetable market, killing eleven people and wounding at least thirty-seven. A local grocer witnessed the bombing.
Witness: "The truck entered the market, and people were slaughtered. What did porters, grocers and farmers do to deserve to be killed?"
Violence has recently increased around Baghdad, with last month being the deadliest in more than a year.
US Military Drops Case Against Officer who Refused Iraq Deployment
The US military has dropped its attempt to retry Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a military request to withdraw an appeal of a lower-court ruling that said a second court-martial would have violated Watada’s right against double jeopardy. Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial. Watada’s attorney says he intends to leave the military and attend law school.
AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks
The pro-Israeli government lobby group AIPAC has launched a new campaign to prevent the Obama administration from pressuring Israel to engage in peace talks. AIPAC is urging lawmakers to sign onto a congressional measure that urges Obama not to dictate how Israel negotiates with Palestinian leaders. The administration says it supports a two-state solution, though it hasn’t called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories where a Palestinian state would be created. Israel opposes the two-state solution and wants to retain Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Israel Rejects UN Report
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has rejected the findings of a UN report that found it deliberately and recklessly attacked UN facilities and personnel during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Speaking at UN headquarters Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel rejects the report’s every word.
Israeli President Shimon Peres: "We have the regard for the Secretary-General. We don’t accept one word of what the board writes. They didn’t have to write it. They were unfair. They were one-sided."
Group: Israel Interrogating Gaza Patients
Meanwhile, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli medical human rights group says a growing number of Palestinian patients have been interrogated by Israeli agents before leaving the Gaza Strip for medical care. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights says at least 438 patients were interrogated while trying to leave Gaza between January 2008 and March of this year.
Senate to Hold Torture Memo Hearing
Back in the United States, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has announced plans to convene the first congressional hearing on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Whitehouse says he plans to call on witnesses, including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow.
Post-9/11 Rules Impeded Swine Flu Response
US health officials have confirmed they were delayed in responding to the swine flu outbreak because of Bush administration rules imposed after the 9/11 attacks. The Financial Times reports Mexican officials sent samples from infected patients in mid-April. But US restrictions on imported biological materials meant the samples first had to be sent for analysis in Canada. American scientists had already analyzed several swine flu cases without realizing it was the same virus. There have now been two confirmed swine flu deaths in the US, both in Texas.
Probe: FBI Terror List Harms National Security
A Justice Department probe has found the FBI’s "terrorist watch list" has endangered national security by retaining some 24,000 names without justification, while excluding many who have been investigated. In addition to risking national security, the probe found the watch list has also caused lengthy delays at airports, along highways and other travel areas in the United States.
Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage; New Hampshire to Follow
Maine has become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Democratic Governor John Baldacci signed a measure backing sex-same marriage, following its approval in the Maine legislature. New Hampshire is expected to follow suit as early as today. New Hampshire lawmakers have sent Democratic Governor John Lynch a similar measure to sign into law.
Senate Passes Stripped-Down Mortgage Bill
The Senate has approved a foreclosure assistance bill providing limited help for struggling homeowners. The measure would protect mortgage service companies from lawsuits in return for taking part in federal loan modification programs. It would also give renters of foreclosed properties at least ninety days’ eviction notice and spend some $2.6 billion on curbing homelessness. Last week, the Senate dropped a key amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners.
Study: Subprime Firms Spent $370M on Lobbying
Meanwhile, a new study shows the top twenty-five companies responsible for subprime mortgages spent nearly $370 million in lobbying over the past decade. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the companies originated an estimated $1 trillion in subprime loans between 2005 and 2007. Most of them are now out of business.
Thousands Evacuated in California Wildfires
In California, wildfires have erupted around Santa Barbara County. More than 8,000 residents have been evacuated as firefighters try to contain the blaze.
Wal-Mart Reaches Settlement in Worker Trampling Death
The retail giant Wal-Mart has reached a settlement to avoid charges for the death of a worker crushed by a stampede of shoppers last December. Thirty-four-year-old Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of 2,000 broke down store doors and ran him over shortly before the store’s opening. Wal-Mart will pay nearly $2 million and pledge to improve safety at its New York stores.
Poll: Majority Support Legalizing Marijuana
A new poll has found a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. According to Zogby, 52 percent of Americans say it "makes sense to tax and regulate" marijuana.