The New York Times is reporting the CIA hired the private military firm Blackwater as part of a secret program to assassinate top operatives of al-Qaeda. Executives from Blackwater helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The CIA spent several million dollars on the program, which the Times claims did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
In Iraq, the toll from Wednesday’s string of attacks in Baghdad has risen to 101 dead and more than 500 wounded. It was the deadliest day of coordinated bombings in Iraq since February 2008. The attacks came on the six-year anniversary of the bombings of the UN mission in Iraq that killed twenty-two people, including top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to de Mello and condemned the latest attacks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Today is the anniversary of the anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq which killed Sergio and twenty-one other distinguished colleagues. I am saddened that the violence continues, including the appalling string of attacks today in Baghdad which took the lives of scores of innocent people."
Millions of Afghans are voting in presidential and provincial elections today amid tight security and threats of violence from the Taliban. On Wednesday, six US troops were killed in southern Afghanistan. At least thirty-two US troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month. That puts August on pace to surpass last month’s forty-four troop deaths, the highest of the eight-year US occupation.
A new poll, meanwhile, shows growing American opposition to the war in Afghanistan. The Washington Post-ABC News survey found 51 percent of Americans view the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting. Just one-quarter of respondents say they support President Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war with at least 17,000 additional troops.
On the eve of the Afghan vote, the international aid group Oxfam warned Afghans continue to face dire humanitarian conditions. According to Oxfam, one in three Afghans is at risk of hunger. A pregnant Afghan woman dies an average of every thirty minutes. Oxfam called on the US-led occupation force to boost aid efforts. The US spends an estimated $100 million a day on military and security operations in Afghanistan, while the overall aid budget for all donors combined is less than $7 million a day.
The Washington Post is reporting at least ten European countries have agreed to accept prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Five other European Union countries are also said to be considering proposals to resettle Guantanamo prisoners. The US has cleared around eighty of Guantanamo’s 229 remaining prisoners for release.
The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was in Peru Wednesday as he continues to rally regional support. Zelaya said his return to Honduras is imminent.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: "The return to my country is imminent. I can’t give up. I can’t accept to live in exile. In the first place, there is no (legal) proceeding against me in Honduras, no fault, no sentence nor has there been a single criminal proceeding against me in all my life. The only judgments against me were established after the coup d’etat."
Zelaya also repeated his call for the US to use its massive trade leverage over Honduras to pressure the coup regime.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: "I acknowledge that both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had nothing to do in this, in planning this coup d’etat. I say it and I say it with respect, the measures taken until now are lukewarm. They have been lukewarm hands against those who led the coup."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel’s Vice-Prime Minister is coming under criticism for calling the prominent Israeli group Peace Now "a virus." Moshe Yaalon was filmed making the remark at a public event last week.
Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon: "We are dealing again with a situation where the virus, which is Peace Now, and, if you will, the elite, their damage is very great. As far as I’m concerned, Jews should be permitted to live forever in all parts of Israel."
Back in the United States, an Oklahoma judge has overturned a state law requiring women seeking abortion to first receive an ultrasound and a doctor’s description of the fetus. Opponents of the measure had called it an invasion of a woman’s privacy. The rule was part of a sweeping anti-abortion law approved by Oklahoma’s state legislature last year. State Republicans are vowing to re-approve the restriction in another vote.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson hosted diplomats from North Korea Wednesday. After the meeting, Richardson said the recent release of two American journalists from North Korea provides an opportunity to improve US-North Korean ties.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson: "The North Koreans clearly feel that they’re owed something, that they released the two Americans and that they want a gesture in return. So, you know, let’s take advantage of this thaw. And the next step should be some kind of dialogue that involves the United States and North Korea."
In Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is facing fresh accusations of racial profiling. In a new lawsuit, a father and son say they were arrested without cause and brought to the site of an immigration raid against their will. The father, Julian Mora, is a documented resident, while his son, Julio, is a US citizen. It’s the latest case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of the discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. Earlier this year, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into Arpaio’s immigration enforcement policies.
In Massachusetts, Senator Edward Kennedy is calling for a change to state laws to allow for his speedier replacement. Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last year. In a letter to Governor Deval Patrick and state lawmakers, Kennedy says he wants Massachusetts to alter a law that calls for a special election within five months to fill a Senate vacancy. Kennedy says that five-month vacancy period is too long and is calling for a gubernatorial appointment to ensure a quicker succession. The letter comes amidst the congressional debate over healthcare reform, one of Kennedy’s chief causes over his political career.
And the television news producer Don Hewitt has died at the age of eighty-six. Hewitt created the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, which he oversaw for more than thirty-five years until his retirement in 2004.