A Chilean judge ruled Monday that the country’s former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet was competent to stand trial for human rights abuses. He was placed under house arrest after being charged with nine counts of kidnapping and one of murder. Last night his attorneys successfully won an injunction lifting the house arrest but the charges still stand against the 89 year-old man. Between 1973 and 1990 it is estimated that Pinochet’s government killed off more than 4,000 people. He came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973 in a US-supported coup. In June 1976 declassified documents showed U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Pinochet “we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.... We wish your government well.” Three months later, former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier was assassinated along with his American co-worker Ronni Moffitt by a car bomb in Washington. At the time George H. W. Bush was the head of the CIA. In determining Pinochet’s competence to stand trial, the judge cited an interview Pinochet gave last year to a Spanish-language TV network in the U.S. Pinochet said at the time “everything I did, I would do again.”
In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb has exploded outside the main checkpoint leading into the Green Zone for the second time in as many days. At least seven people died in the rush hour attack. Yesterday a similar bombing killed as many as 13. The BBC reports the checkpoint leading into the Green Zone has become one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq. The Green Zone houses the Iraqi government and the US embassy. In Western Iraq, two more Marines have been killed in action bringing the total to 10 over the past three days.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced today that war crimes trials against former Baath Party leaders will begin next week. He did not say whether Saddam Hussein would be among those tried. Monday marked the one year anniversary since the capture of Hussein. His lawyers have yet to meet with him. Few of the other former Baath Party leaders have seen attorneys either.
U.S. Sen. John McCain charged on Monday that he has “no confidence” in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his handling of the Iraq war. McCain has called for more troops to be sent to Iraq. The US troop level will soon rise to 150,000 troops — the highest level since the war began. But McCain wants to send as many as 110,000 more troops to Iraq.
Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld is considering canceling a planned trip to Germany after U.S. lawyers filed a lawsuit against Rumsfeld in German courts. This according to a report in the German magazine Focus. The center for constitutional rights filed a complaint accusing Rumsfeld of war crimes and torture in connection with the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. German laws allows the trial of war crimes regardless of where they are carried out. Rumsfeld said he won’t go to Germany for the Munich Security Conference if the government indicates it will investigate the war crime complaint.
The Pakistani newspaper The Daily Times is reporting US forces have begun building a new military base in Afghanistan near the border of Iran. Some military commentators have said the development could be linked to rising tensions between the United States and Iran, but the US military and the Afghan government say the base is being built for the Afghan National Army.
Meanwhile the Atlantic Monthly has revealed that Pentagon planners recently carried out simulated attacks on Iran to determine the effectiveness of a military strike on Iranian bases and nuclear facilities. The war games reportedly also considered a ground invasion.
In election news the Ohio delegation to the Electoral College cast its vote for President Bush on Monday but not before a coalition of groups asked the Supreme Court to review the outcome of the state election. A group of Congressional Democrats also wrote Ohio’s governor to ask him to delay the electoral vote until the disputes are resolved. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and attorney Cliff Arnebeck of the Alliance for Democracy accused President Bush’s campaign of “high-tech vote stealing.” A spokesperson for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell described t he charges as “a ridiculous assertion.” Meanwhile the Kerry campaign has requested that its witnesses be allowed to inspect some 92,000 ballots that have not been counted because the state claims voters did not record a vote for president on them.
This news from the Occupied Territories: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has publicly said the armed uprising against Israel has been a mistake and must end. He told a British newspaper it is important to “keep the uprising away from arms because the uprising is a legitimate right of the people to express their rejection of the occupation by popular and social means.” Abbas’ comments come one day after jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti dropped out of the race. Barghouti is widely seen as the leader of the second intifada against Israel. Abbas has also claimed that he is in talks Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to bring them into the framework of the PLO. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have openly backed the armed uprising and have threatened to boycott next month’s election.
The Syrian government has accused Israel of being behind a car bombing that targeted a Palestinian member of Hamas in the Syrian capital of Damascas on Monday. The Hamas member was uninjured in the blast. Three months ago a top Hamas leader was assassinated in Damascas. Israel never publicly acknowledged responsibility but unnamed Israel officials admitted to being behind the killing.
In news from Washington, President Bush has nominated Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Leavitt to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services replacing Tommy Thompson. Leavitt would oversee Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Indian Health Service. The Wall Street Journal reports that Leavitt, who is Mormon, will likely oppose federal funding of stem-cell research. On Monday Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey described Leavitt as “extremely anti-choice”. Before coming to Washington, Leavitt served as governor of Utah.
In Sudan, the United Nations has suspended its relief operations in the South Darfur region following the shooting death of two aid workers.
A new report by the Death Penalty Information Center has found that the number of executions of prisoners in the country has deceased by 40 percent over the past five years. Last year 144 people were sentenced to death–it was the lowest number in 30 years.
And in New York, an art exhibition featuring a portrait of President Bush has been removed from Chelsea Market after complaints from the market’s owners. The New York Times reports the painting by 23-year-old Christopher Savido appears to be a likeness of the president but viewed up close reveals the portrait is in fact chimpanzees swimming in a marshy landscape. Savido said “I came to New York to express myself. I would never have expected this censorship to happen here. I really feel powerless.”