The Pentagon has now admitted that at least 25 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners have died while in U.S. custody over the past 18 months. The total includes two Iraqis who have been murdered by Americans. The Pentagon said they have carried out 35 investigations of possible prisoner abuse. About half of the deaths are believed to have been caused by natural causes.
In Iraq today, hundreds of Iraqis protested against the U.S. outside the Abu Ghraib prison. In an attempt to quell the growing controversy President Bush plans to appear today on two Arab television stations, Al-Arabiya and the U.S.-controlled Al-Hurra. Meanwhile Bush’s press secretary Scott McClellan revealed that the president still has not read the Pentagon’s internal 53-page report that detailed the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. [[[* Read the full report*]]] On Tuesday National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State apologized for what happened but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disputed whether anything done constituted torture.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee plans to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the prison scandal today. Senators complained yesterday that they only learned of the abuse problem via the media last week. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said, “We need to know why we weren’t told what went on.” Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota said Rumsfeld gave Senators a classified briefing last week on Iraq but never mentioned that 60 Minutes was just hours away from broadcasting images of Iraqi prisoners being abused and tortured. Daschle said, “Why were we not told in a classified briefing why this happened, and that it happened at all? That is inexcusable; it’s an outrage.”
In related news, the State Department has delayed the release of its annual human rights report which was due out today. The report was titled “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2003-2004.” One official told the Los Angeles Times that releasing the report now would “make us look hypocritical.”
The Indian government has asked the United States to investigate reports that Indian workers are being forced by private contractors in Iraq to stay in Iraq against their will.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it planned to keep as many as 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through the end of 2005–more than twice as many as originally projected. Plans are also underway to send more tanks and armored vehicles to Iraq. A group of 21 leading Shiite Muslim leaders in Iraq have called on cleric Moqtada Sadr to abandon their strongholds in Najaf and Karbala and for the US to remain outside the cities.
The Senate has voted to block new Labor Department rules that would deny overtime pay to millions of workers, handing an embarrassing rebuff to the Bush administration. The Senate voted 52 to 47 after five Republicans joined Democrats.
In Texas, a man with ties to white supremacists was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to building and possessing chemical weapons in one of the most serious cases of domestic terrorism since Oklahoma City.
In Afghanistan, two foreign contractors and their driver were killed in a remote eastern province where they were surveying the area as part of a UN plan to register voters for September elections.
And Disney has barred its Miramax division from distributing Michael Moore’s new documentary Fahrenheit 911 that examines President Bush’s actions before and after the Sept. 11 attacks including his ties to prominent Saudis including the family of Osama Bin Laden. Moore’s agent told the New York Times that the head of Disney, Michael Eisner was concerned that Bush’s brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, would strip Disney of tax breaks on Disneyworld and other corporate holdings in Florida. Disney said the decision was made because it didn’t want to be “dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle.” Moore told the Times “At some point the question has to be asked, `Should this be happening in a free and open society where the monied interests essentially call the shots regarding the information that the public is allowed to see?’”