The CIA’s top intelligence official in Iraq has warned that the political, economic and security situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon. The New York Times reported the warning came in a classified cable sent last month. But the Bush administration appears to be downplaying the report even though it came from the CIA’s Baghdad station chief. In response to the memo, the US ambassador in Iraq, John Negroponte, filed a written dissent. He argued that the CIA’s assessment was too harsh.
U.S. forces and members of the Iraqi resistance were involved Monday in gun battles on Haifa Street–one of the main thoroughfares of Baghdad, just three blocks from the Green Zone. Also on Monday a top finance ministry official was assassinated in Baghdad.
The Independent of London reports security has become so bad in Baghdad that when Australia’s Defense Minister Robert Hill landed in Iraq last week it was deemed too unsafe for him to visit his own embassy.
In news from Capitol Hill, Congress has moved closer to passing major legislation that would restructure the country’s intelligence community. The bill largely puts into place recommendations by the 9/11 Commission. On Monday a compromise was reached between the House leadership and the White House on the bill. Even though the bill has had the support of President Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been sidetracking the legislation due to concerns over issues surrounding military intelligence and immigration.
A newly leaked letter by a senior agency counterterrorism official has revealed that FBI agents witnessed US soldiers abusing detainees at Guantanamo Bay as early 2002 but the Pentagon did little to investigate the complaints. The Los Angeles Times report that in one incident, a soldier reportedly bent a prisoner’s thumbs back and “grabbed his genitals.” In another, an FBI agent saw a detainee “gagged with duct tape” for refusing to stop chanting the Quran. In a third episode, a prisoner allegedly was threatened with an aggressive dog and the man was placed for three months in “intense isolation,” causing him to experience “extreme psychological trauma.” One abused detainee was seen “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain.”
In Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai was sworn in today as the country’s first elected president at a small innaugaration ceremony attended by 150 people including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both Cheney and Rumsfeld were expected to leave Kabul shortly after the event because the city is considered too unsafe for them to stay overnight. Meanwhile at least 12 people died today in fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The State Department’s top official in Latin America has announced that President Bush is committed to the “liberation of Cuba” during the next four years. Roger Noriega said last week Washington already has a blueprint of plans for a post-Castro Cuba to prevent Castro’s supporters from retaining control of the country after his death. Noriega said Washington wants to “ensure that vestiges of the regime don’t hold on.” He added “The transition essentially is under way today.” Ricardo Alarcon, the speaker of Cuba’s Parliament, warned the U.S. would fail in any such efforts. Alarcon said, “If they try it, they have to attack Cuba, then use military occupation and then attempt a regime change. They can attempt it, they can try, but they will be handed a defeat they will never forget.” In other news from Cuba, the government released journalist Jorge Olivera from jail Monday. He is the seventh dissident freed in the past week.
In Canada, U.S. Army war resister Jeremy Hinzman made his case Monday for Canada to give him refugee status. Hinzman told Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board that the war in Iraq was illegal and that he would have become a war criminal by fighting in it. The 26-year-old Hinzman also said he would be persecuted if forced to return to the United States where he could face five years in prison.
And here in New York, some 29 people were arrested yesterday at the US Army’s recruiting center in Times Square after they blockaded the entrance. The civil disobedience was part of a weekend commemoration of legendary peace activist Phil Berrigan. Yesterday was the second anniversary of his death. Berrigan rose to international prominence as an antiwar activist in May of 1968 after he and his brother Father Daniel Berrigan, along with 7 others carried out an action known as the Catonsville 9. At the height of the Vietnam war, they raided a draft board in Maryland and burned hundreds of A-1 Draft files with homemade napalm, an action that would land all of them in prison for years. Along with his wife, Liz McAlister, Berrigan founded the Jonah House Resistance Community in 1973, where they organized the Plowshares movement. From 1980 to the present, activists have carried out dozens of these resistance actions where they symbolically damage nuclear weapons. Berrigan spent more than a decade behind bars for his activism. Berrigan wrote a final statement in the days before his death. His final comments included this: “I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center has obtained government documents that show the CIA has begun quietly funding federal research into surveillance of internet chat rooms as part of the so-called war on terror. Some of the research is being done at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. The funding officially comes from the National Science Foundation but the CIA played a role in selecting grant recipients. EPIC director Marc Rotenberg said “The intelligence community is changing the priorities of scientific research in the U.S. You have to be careful that the National Science Foundation doesn’t become the National Spy Foundation.”
In Maryland, a dozen empty luxury homes worth up to a half million dollars have been destroyed in a series of fires set by arsonists Another 30 empty homes were damaged. The homes were all part of a new subdivision still under construction. Environmentalists have criticized the placement of the homes next to an environmental preserve. There were no reports of injuries. Damage was estimated at $10 million. No group has taken responsibility for the arson. In the past the Earth Liberation Front, has torched homes under construction in other environmentally sensitive areas across the country.
And the 10th United Nations conference on climate change has opened in Argentina. Agence France Press reports the Bush administration is refusing to discuss changing its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol even though it is the world’s largest producer of global-warming gases. Even without the US backing, the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect on Feb. 16.