The Wall Street Journal is reporting senior U.S. military officials in Iraq, including two advisers to the top commander there, reviewed a Red Cross report detailing prison abuse in early November but didn’t launch an investigation into the abuses until two months later. In recent testimony Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said officials at the Pentagon didn’t learn of the abuse problems until mid-January when a soldier alerted them. Meanwhile a senior U.S. Army officer has told the New York Times that the military attempted to block the Red Cross from conducting surprise inspections of the Abu Ghraib prison late last year after it released its study criticizing the conditions.
In addition, the news agencies NBC and Reuters reported members of their own staff had been subjected to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation while in US custody in Iraq earlier this year. Two of the Reuters staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, which is particularly humiliating in Arab culture. The staffers and journalists were also warned they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay. Before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal emerged, the U.S. military said it conducted an internal investigation and found no evidence the NBC and Reuters staffers were mistreated.
In Baghdad, Specialist Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty today to three counts of abuse during a court martial proceeding stemming from the Iraqi prison abuse scandal. He plead guilty to conspiracy to maltreat subordinates, or detainees; dereliction of duty for willfully failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment; and maltreatment of detainees.
Meanwhile in other developments in the prison abuse scandal, a key witness in the military’s investigation as to what happened in the prison broke orders from his commanders and spoke recently with ABC News. Sgt. Samuel Provance, who was part of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion, said dozens of soldiers were involved in the abuse. He said “There’s definitely a cover-up. People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet.” Provance, who ran the top secret computer network used by military intelligence at the prison, said he didn’t personally witness the abuse but it was often talked about at the prison.
The Senate Armed Forces Committee plans to hear testimony today from Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander on the ground in Iraq; and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who headed up operations at Guantanamo Bay and alter Abu Ghraib. They are all scheduled to testify in person in Washington. Today’s hearing is not without controversy. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter accused the Senators of “jerking out these battlefield commanders” while their troops are in a war. He went on to say the Senate Armed Forces Committee have given “probably more publicity to what six people did in the Abu Ghraib prison at 2:30 in the morning than the invasion of Normandy.”
The BBC is reporting Israel’s attack on Rafah is one of the largest Israeli offensives ever in Gaza. Haaretz is reporting up to 23 Palestinians were killed today when an Israeli missile was fired into a crowd of Rafah residents were demonstrating the against Israeli attack. 20 Palestinians died on Tuesday in a offensive which the Israelis are calling “Operation Rainbow.” The entire Rafah refugee camp is now without water or electricity and has been sealed off from the rest of Gaza. Yasser Arafat accused Israel of carrying out a planned massacre. He said “What is happening in Rafah is an operation to destroy and to transfer the local Palestinian population, and this must not be accepted, not by the Palestinians, nor the Arabs, nor by the international community.” The United Nations and European Union demanded the offensive to end. President Bush spoke at an AIPAC conference Tuesday and said he was troubled by the events but added “Israel has every right to defend itself.”
In India, the leader of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi stunned the country Tuesday when the she announced she would not accept the job of prime minister even though her party won India’s elections last week.
In Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney has ordered four cities to immediately hand over copies of all marriage license applications filed since Monday, the first day same sex couples could get married in the state. Romney is attempting to block any town or city from issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state couples. At least four towns and cities, Provincetown, Somerville, Worcester and Springfield, have defied the order. The Boston Globe reports Romney may seek an injunction as early as today to block the town and city clerks from marrying out-of-state couples. The clerks in those towns say they have never before been required to hand over marriage license applications to the state. The state hasn’t officially said why it has requested to review the licenses but a spokesperson for the governor said “marriages performed outside the law will be null and void.”