The U.S. military have raided and ransacked the headquarters and home of Ahmed Chalabi morning in Baghdad. Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, had once been the Bush administration’s closest Iraqi ally. His Iraqi National Congress fed much of the fabricated and misleading intelligence to the US government and press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. The INC has received over $40 million in US funding over the past four years. U.S. officials said Chalabi is under investigation for sharing top secret U.S. intelligence documents with foreign governments including Iran that could put American lives in jeopardy. In addition 15 employees of Chalabi are reportedly under investigation for taking part in kidnappings, torture, embezzlement and the theft of government property. The Washington Post reports the U.S. has been investigating the INC for possible ties to a scheme to defraud the Iraqi government during the transition to a new currency that took place last year. Chalabi had also distanced himself from Washington and had become highly critical of the occupation. The raid occurred at dawn Thursday morning. U.S. forces with help from the FBI, CIA and Iraqi police surrounded his house and headquarters. Files, rifles and computers were seized. The U.S. attempted to downplay their involvement and claim the Iraqi police led the raid. At one point Paul Bremer’s chief spokesman Dan Senor said “We really don’t have anything to do with the investigation or the arrests.” But all reports from Iraq indicate the U.S. was entirely behind it. Adnan Pachachi who serves on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council disputed the U.S. claim. “Of course they knew,” he said. After the raid Chalabi cut off his ties with the Iraqi Governing Council. The council plans to hold an emergency meeting today in response to the raid.
New details in the prison torture scandal in Iraq have emerged as the Washington Post has obtained hundreds of more photos of abuse as well as sworn statements by detainees at Abu Ghraib describing the torture. One photo showed a naked prisoner who appears to be covered in excrement being paraded down a hallway. Another shows a U.S. soldier beating detainees sprawled on the floor. A video shows a prisoner slamming his head repeatedly into a metal door, that he is shackled to, until he collapses. In sworn testimony, prisoners have reported they were force-fed pork and alcohol against their Muslim religion. One detainee said a soldier asked him if he believed in anything. The prisoner said “I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'” Then the soldier hit the detained man who had a broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. The prisoner said “Because they started to hit my broken leg, I curse my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus I’m alive.”
NBC News is reporting another prison scandal may soon be emerging. The Pentagon is now investigating charges of abuse carried out by the Army’s elite Delta Force at a top secret site near the Baghdad airport. According to some US officials the most egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions took place at this site where top-level Iraqi suspects are held. According to NBC the normal rules of interrogation don’t apply here. As soon as detainees are brought in, hoods are put over their heads. The detainees are routinely drugged. Prisoners are held under water until they think they are drowning. And some are smothered to the point of near suffocation. In related news, on Capitol Hill, the House voted 308 to 114 on Thursday to tear down Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. And some 400 more prisoners in Abu Grab prisoners were released today.
In other news from Iraq, up to 42 Iraqis died on Wednesday when the US attacked a wedding party near the Syrian border. The Guardian of London interviewed some of the survivors who reported 27 of those killed were from one family. 14 were children and 11 were women. Also killed was Hussein al-Ali who was one of the most popular singers in western Iraq. One survivor who lost her two boys in the attack said “The bombing started at 3am. We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one.” Another witness said “I saw something that nobody ever saw in this world. There were children’s bodies cut into pieces, women cut into pieces, men cut into pieces. The U.S. has admitted there was a raid on the village but said it was to target a “suspected foreign fighter safe house.” Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq said “We took ground fire and we returned fire. We estimate that around 40 were killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement.” A Marine commander disputed the Iraqi assertion that the US had raided a wedding party. But when he was asked about a video showing a child’s body being lowered into a grave he said “I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my men.”
The Bush Administration is asking the UN Security Council for an extension on immunity from prosecution of any of its soldiers or citizens from the International Criminal Court. Last year, the Council adopted a similar resolution unanimously under U.S. threat to veto U.S. peacekeeping missions. This year, Brazil, Spain, Germany and France are expected to abstain. The International Criminal Court was set up to try perpetrators of genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.
An Iraqi cameraman working with Al-Jazeera and eight other civilians have been killed in fighting in the holy city of Karbala. This according to a report by Agence France Press. The journalist Hamid Rashid Wali was filming the fighting from his hotel window when he was shot. Agence France Presse reports that 15 journalists have been killed so far this year in Iraq, all but two have been Iraqi. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently named Iraq to be the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
In Gaza, there are reports the Israeli military is pulling out of Rafah where it has conducted a massive assault over the last three days. The BBC has described the offensive as one of the largest ever in Gaza. At least 41 Palestinians were killed over the past three days. Homes were demolished. City streets were ripped up and the BBC reports even the town’s zoo was destroyed. Israel’s actions were widely condemned by the international community. Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, the Palestinian legislator Marwan Barghouti, who was once seen as a possible successor to Yasser Arafat, was convicted on five counts of murder by an Israeli court. Barghouti rejected the charges and said “This is a court of occupation that I do not recognize.” The prosecution is seeking to hand him five life sentences.
The non-partisan General Accounting Office (GAO) has determined that the Bush administration engaged in illegal, covert propaganda by making and distributing videos to TV stations that appeared to be real news segments lauding the benefits of the new Republican-written Medicare legislation.
In Miami, a federal judge has acquitted Greenpeace in its trial brought by the Justice Department. Greenpeace was facing criminal charges under an obscure 19th century sailing law after two of its members boarded a boat illegally transporting mahogany. If Greenpeace had been convicted, first amendment lawyers predicted it would send a chilling message to all activist groups.
In Washington, the Justice Department has taken the unusual step of retroactively classifying information it gave to Congress in open session two years ago pertaining to the case of Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds is the former FBI translator who has charged on Democracy Now and other news programs that the FBI had information before Sept. 11 that indicated an Al Qaida attack was imminent. FBI officials gave Senate staffers two briefings in 2002 concerning Edmonds. Now they want to classify the content of those meetings. Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa told the New York Times “What the F.B.I. is up to here is ludicrous. To classify something that’s already been out in the public domain, what do you accomplish? It does harm to transparency in government, and it looks like an attempt to cover up the F.B.I.’s problems in translating intelligence.” The Justice Department is classifying the types of cases Edmonds handled, the employees she worked with and where she worked and even what languages Edmonds translated. Edmonds who speaks fluent Farsi and Turkish was hired shortly after Sept. 11 to translate intelligence that the agency had received in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. In addition to classifying the contents of the 2002 hearing, the Justice Department is also trying to block Edmonds from testifying in a lawsuit connected to 9/11.