A car bomb has killed seven policemen in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Eight other officers were wounded in the blast. Meanwhile, gunmen shot dead eight people in a minibus south of Baghdad. Officials said it was not clear who was in the bus. In the southern city of Basra, suicide bombers attacked the building housing the Interior Ministry and a police station, wounding 5 police officers. At dawn on Tuesday, an explosion tore through a gas pipeline between the northern city of Kirkuk and a refinery near Tikrit. An official with the Northern Oil Company said the pipeline was destroyed and would take days to repair.
In Iraq election news, the US rejected a proposal from the Sunni Association of Muslims Scholars that the US declare a timetable for withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. In return the leading Sunni organization would lift its boycott of the elections and would accept the resulting government as legitimate even if it was Shiite-dominated. The US spokesman said that the US was not prepared to announce a timetable for withdrawal, and that it would be premature to do so before the new elected Iraqi government was formed.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times is reporting that the electoral group headed by the unelected Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi handed out cash to journalists on Monday to ensure coverage of its press conferences during the lead up to the January 30th election. After a meeting held by Allawi’s campaign alliance in west Baghdad, reporters, most of whom were from the Arabic-language press, were invited upstairs where each was offered a “gift” of a $100 bill contained in an envelope. Many of the journalists accepted the cash–about equivalent to half the starting monthly salary for a reporter at an Iraqi newspaper–and one jokingly recalled how Saddam Hussein’s regime had also lavished perks on favored reporters. The press conference came as Allawi and his allies kicked their electoral campaign into high gear.
The French newspaper whose reporter in Baghdad has been missing since last week said Monday it seemed increasingly likely that she was abducted. Iraqi and French officials say a search is under way for Florence Aubenas of the French daily Liberation and her Iraqi translator. They were last seen Wednesday morning leaving the reporter’s Baghdad hotel. A close relative of the translator said that Aubenas and the translator were abducted in Baghdad near an entrance to the Green Zone, the fortified home of the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government. Neither French nor Iraqi authorities confirmed that claim.
Opening arguments have begun in the case of Charles Graner, the accused ringleader of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Yesterday, Graner’s lawyer compared piling naked prisoners into pyramids to cheerleader shows and said leashing inmates was also acceptable prisoner control. The lawyer, Guy Womack asked a 10-member U.S. military jury, “Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?” Also facing a court martial is Private Lynndie England, who has a child with Graner. She is best known for the photo where she has a naked Iraqi prisoner on the ground on a leash as she smiles. The prosecution showed some of those pictures in their opening argument, including several of naked Iraqi men piled on each other. Graner’s lawyer said using a tether was a valid method of controlling detainees, especially those who might be soiled with feces. He said, “You’re keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections. In Texas we’d lasso them and drag them out of there.” He compared the leash to parents who place tethers on their toddlers while walking in shopping malls. Apart from arguing that the methods were not illegal, Graner’s defense is that he was following orders. His lawyer said yesterday that Graner himself would testify.
A ten term Republican Congressmember from North Carolina says the United States should consider pulling its troops out of Iraq. North Carolina Representative Howard Coble told the News & Record of Greensboro that he’s “fed up with picking up the newspaper and reading that we’ve lost another five or 10 of our young men and women in Iraq.” The dean of the state’s congressional delegation said he arrived at his position only after many months of searching in vain for evidence that the Bush administration had a post-invasion strategy to deal with the transition to Iraqi self-government. Coble says he voted to give Bush sweeping war-making powers assuming the administration had a post-invasion strategy. In the interview, he said, “If there was a strategy, I wish someone would tell me what it is or show it to me. I’d like to see it.” The congressman said he thought Bush was correct in attacking Iraq, and that he and most of his constituents still believe it was the right decision. The congressman from Greensboro said he is aware that few members of Congress have said openly that the country should consider withdrawing from Iraq. More than a year ago, Republican Congressmember James Leach of Iowa said on the House floor that the United States should begin a withdrawal that would be complete by the end of 2004.
The Indonesian military announced yesterday that it would officially begin restricting relief workers from reaching remoter parts of the tsunami-hit province of Aceh. The army said aid workers would now be required to register to travel outside the towns of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh. The head of the army, Endriartono Sutarto, admitted the restrictions could slow down relief efforts. General Sutarto told the BBC the move was necessary because he had to protect foreign aid workers from the resistance movement known as the GAM. A GAM spokesman in Aceh, told the BBC that the military was operating a smear campaign against the resistance, and stressed that GAM were Acehnese–unlike most of the military in Aceh–and that the GAM were supporting the aid effort. The military’s announcement came just hours after Indonesia’s foreign minister told the BBC that Jakarta had struck a “gentleman’s agreement” with the GAM not to disrupt aid efforts. Some analysts believe the military is attempting to use the Tsunami to launch a major offensive against the GAM.
Four CBS News employees, including three executives, have been ousted for their role in preparing and reporting a disputed story about President Bush’s National Guard service. The action was prompted by the report of an independent panel that concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel also said CBS News had compounded that failure with a “rigid and blind” defense of the 60 Minutes Wednesday report. Asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was also fired.
Police officers are using new behavioral profiling techniques as they patrol subway stations, identifying suspicious riders and pulling them aside for questioning. According to The Washington Post, the officers are targeting people who avoid eye contact, loiter or appear to be looking around transit stations more than other passengers. Anyone identified as suspicious will be stopped and questioned about what they are doing and where they are going. As part of their preparations for tighter security during the presidential inauguration, the officers have been trained by the Transportation Security Administration to take notice of the same behavioral characteristics and patterns that airport security officials watch for. A similar observation regime at Boston’s Logan International Airport has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of an African American ACLU employee who said he was stopped and questioned by police for no reason after arriving on a flight from the West Coast. The behavior monitoring is part of the extensive security apparatus being established for the inauguration. But, the so-called nerve center for the most heavily guarded presidential inauguration in history will not be in Washington, but 25 miles away in a futuristic command post in Northern Virginia. Inside a gleaming steel-and-marble complex, the Secret Service and 50 federal, state and local agencies will monitor action in the sky, on the ground and in the subway system. Giant plasma screens will beam in live video from helicopters and cameras at the U.S. Capitol, along the parade route and at other areas. Officials will be able to track fighter jets patrolling the skies and call up three-dimensional maps of downtown. In other inauguration news, Washington D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with the inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert more than $11 million from homeland security projects.
The British government has announced that the four remaining British citizens held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo will be released. This follows months of negotiations between Washington and London and a direct appeal by Prime Minister Tony Blair to U.S. President George W. Bush, as well as multiple lawsuits filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The four Brits are: Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar. It is not clear when they will be released. Meanwhile, the Australian government says one of its citizens held at Guantanamo will also be released. Mamdouh Habib has been held at Guantanamo Bay for three years. He filed a lawsuit charging that he was transferred by the US to Egypt where he was tortured. We’ll have more on this breaking news later in the program.
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