In a prime-time address Monday night, President Bush vowed to send more troops to Iraq if requested by the military. He said, “If they need more troops, I will send them.” 138,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq. Nearly 800 have died since the US invasion began last March. In his 31-minute speech, Bush also vowed sovereignty would be handed over to Iraq on June 30. But questions still linger as to how much sovereignty Iraq will actually have. On Monday the U.S. put forth a new United Nations resolution that clearly states the new Iraqi government will not have the power to ask occupying troops to leave the country or to overrule military missions carried out by the U.S. and its partners.
For Bush, the speech came on the day that his approval rating dropped to a new low — 41 percent — according to a new CBS poll. The president is planning to give five more prime-time speeches on Iraq in the coming weeks in what the Washington Post describes as a “tightly orchestrated public relations effort.” How the speech played out in Iraq is less clear since Bush began speaking at around 4 in the morning Baghdad time.
During his speech Bush announced the U.S. would tear down the Abu Ghraib prison if the new Iraqi government wanted it to be done. Abu Ghraib has been a symbol of abuse and torture under both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupation forces. In other Abu Ghraib news, US Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the notorious prison, has been suspended.
Bush made no mention of perhaps the biggest news out of Iraq Monday: the Pentagon’s decision to remove the top U.S. officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, from his duty in Iraq. He had come under criticism for his handling of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. Sanchez is expected to be brought back to the U.S. and be replaced by the Army’s second-ranking general, Gen. George Casey.
The Associated Press reports Bush chose to give the speech at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in order to reach out to Pennsylvania voters. Since losing Pennsylvania in the 2000 election Bush has visited the state 28 times. According to the Associated Press, Bush has visited no swing state more often.
The Center for American Progress noted the irony in Bush’s appearance at the War College which has released a string of reports condemning the president’s handling of Iraq and the war on terror. In January, one War College Professor released a report that concluded ” “the invasion of Iraq was a diversion from the more narrow focus on defeating al Qaeda.” Another report came out in March warning that in Iraq the US was “ignoring the more critical strategic aim of creating a stable, democratic nation.” And last month a third report warned that U.S.-Arab relations would suffer if the US fails to articulate a clear exit strategy in Iraq.
While Bush was speaking at the War College, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He called for a complete withdrawal of US military and corporate interests from Iraq by the end of the year. Nader also called on US forces to be replaced by peacekeeping forces from the United Nations.
In Najaf, parts of the most sacred Shiite site in Iraq, the Imam Ali shrine, was damaged today in fighting between the U.S. and backers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. The inner gate of the shrine, which leads to the tomb of Imam Ali, appears to have been hit by a projectile. Imam Ali was the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and he is the most revered saint among Shiite Muslims. Al Jazeera is broadcasting images of a torn veil covering the door to the inner shrine and damage on the walls nearby. Several people were injured in the mosque compound as well. Outside hundreds of Shiite Iraqis protested the destruction.
In Kentucky, a former member of a military police company assigned to Guantanamo Bay, has come forward to tell the press how he was almost killed by his fellow American troops during a training exercise where his colleagues thought he was an actual inmate at Guantanamo. Sean Baker’s story took place in 2003. He was stationed at the Cuban base where the military was holding hundreds of detainees captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Baker was ordered to play the role of a detainee in a training exercise. He says four U.S. soldiers who thought he was a detainee grabbed his arms, legs and twisted him. One soldier got on his back and then began to choke him while pressing his head against the steel floor. After 20 or 30 seconds Baker couldn’t breathe. He gave the code word — red — to stop the exercise. But the beating continued until one of the soldiers noticed Baker was wearing Army boots indicating he was not a detainee but one of them. Baker suffered a traumatic brain injury that has left him with a seizure disorder. The military hasn’t confirmed Baker’s story but a spokesperson for the Kentucky National Guard told the Associated Press “There was a training accident, after which he was medically discharged.”
In Portland Oregon, the FBI has admitted it mistakenly detained a Muslim lawyer in connection to the Madrid bombings that killed 191 people in March. Brandon Mayfield was picked up as a material witness in the case after the FBI claimed it had matched his fingerprints to prints found near the scene of the attacks. Now the FBI said the fingerprints do not match. Mayfield, who is a convert to Islam and a former US Army lieutenant, said after his release “This is a serious infringement on our civil liberties. In a climate of fear, this war on terrorism has gone to the extreme, and innocent people are victims as a result.” Mayfield was held for nearly three weeks although no charges were ever filed against him.
In Georgia, the former civil rights leader H. Rap Brown, who is now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, lost his bid Monday for the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn his conviction for the shooting of a sheriff’s deputy four years ago.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has put the state of Vermont on its list of endangered places in the country because the state is endangered of losing its small-town charm by the growth of Wal Mart. It marks the first time the national trust has put a state on its annual list. Vermont has four Wal-Mart stores and at least one more on the way.
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