There are conflicting reports about the condition of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian envoy to France said this morning that Arafat is “in a critical juncture between life and death.” She said he is in a “reversible coma” and that “he could or could not wake up.” Reports remain sketchy after Israel”s Channel Two television reported Thursday that Arafat was brain dead. Doctors at the French military hospital where he is being held have denied the rumors. We will have more on Yasser Arafat in a few minutes.
In Iraq, three British soldiers were killed yesterday by a suicide bomber–in the deadliest attack on British forces in over a year. The dead troops were members of the Black Watch — a group of British soldiers who had been moved at the request of the US from the relatively safe Basra to Baghdad. The Guardian is reporting that the brother of one of the Black Watch soldiers killed yesterday expressed anger this morning over the regiment’s deployment. Craig Lowe said that his brother, Private Paul Lowe, did not believe that the Black Watch should have been deployed in central Iraq and that his family was “heartbroken” over his death. The British troops were moved to Baghdad in order to free up more U.S. troops to take part in the forthcoming battle for Fallujah.
The Knight Ridder news agency is reporting Marines are now expecting the attack on Fallujah will result in the heaviest casualty levels for the US military since the Vietnam War. Navy Cmdr. Lach Noyes said the hospital near Fallujah is preparing to handle 25 severely injured soldiers a day, not counting walking wounded and the dead. The hospital has added two operating rooms, doubled its supplies, added a mortuary and stocked up on blood reserves.
In other Iraq news, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, announced yesterday it was pulling its staff out of Iraq due to the worsening security situation.
Meanwhile, for the first time U.S. soldiers have admitted that they witnessed Iraqi looters taking deadly explosives from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site 18 months ago. The Los Angeles Times reports that a dozen US troops were guarding the sprawling facility and could not stop the looting because they were outnumbered by the thieves. When the soldiers sent a message to Baghdad for assistance, they got no reply. Last month the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that about 380 tons of deadly explosives were taken from the site. The explosives are powerful enough to detonate a nuclear weapon.
Two U.S. soldiers are facing murder charges for shooting dead an innocent Iraqi teenager. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the two soldiers said they first shot the teenager after they mistook him as an insurgent. The teenager was severely injured after the initial shots. Then the soldiers shot him again to “put him out of his misery.” US military officials told the LA Times they could not identify the dead Iraqi boy because they did not collect information at the scene and had lost track of his body.
The Justice Department has announced that more than 700 people were arrested on immigration violations in recent months as part of a pre-election crackdown. The Justice Department has defended the crackdown claiming it was needed to avert a terrorist attack from disrupting the election. None of the 700 arrested were tied to any terror plot.
In election news, the group Black Box Voting has announced plans to conduct the largest Freedom of Information action in history in order to monitor how effective electronic voting machines worked on election day. The group has previously warned that the machines could be programmed in ways to alter the actual voting results. The group is filing 3,000 freedom of information requests from individual counties and townships that used the electronic voting machines. They are seeking to obtain internal computer logs and other documents.
This comes at a time when officials in North Carolina are admitting that 4,500 votes were lost in one county due to electronic voting machine problems. According to the Associated Press country officials were misinformed as to how many votes could be stored on each machine. Meanwhile the website Voteprotect.org is reporting that more than 1,100 voters called their 1-800 number on election day to report problems with electronic voting machines or other voting technologies.
And finally this news from New Jersey: The National Guard announced yesterday that a National Guard F-16 fighter jet on a nighttime training mission accidentally fired 25 rounds of ammunition at a local elementary school in New Jersey. No one was reported to be injured in the incident that occurred at 11 p.m. The fighter pilot missed his target by three and a half miles.
A new medical study has concluded that the drug giant Merck should have pulled its Vioxx painkiller drug from the market four years ago when researchers first revealed that the drug raised the risk of heart attacks. Merck didn’t pull the drug until 5 weeks ago. The US Food and Drug Administration recently published a study estimating that Vioxx could have caused about 28,000 heart attacks or deaths since it was approved in 1999.