The CIA’s National Intelligence Council has released a new report that concludes Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the main training ground for the next generation of so-called “professionalized” terrorists. The report found that following the US invaded Iraq become the prime training and recruiting center for jihadists around the world.
Tonight ABC will air rare televised interview with President Bush by Barbara Walters. A transcript of the interview has already been released. When Walters asked Bush if the war in Iraq was worth it. He responded “absolutely.”
Pre-election violence continues to spread across major portions of Iraq. On Thursday two aides to Shiite Cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani were assassinated. Meanwhile in the eastern village of Khan Bani Saad a bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque while worshipers were leaving after evening prayers. Seven people died, another 38 were wounded. Also on Thursday gunmen killed the director of a Baghdad election center.
Here at home more soldiers are refusing to go back to Iraq. In Savannah Georgia 40-year-old Sgt. Kevin Benderman has become one of the country’s latest war resisters. When asked about the situation in Iraq, the Army mechanic told the Associated Press “you just don’t know how bad it is.”
On Capitol Hill, sixteen House Democrats led by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California have called on President Bush to begin the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a letter sent Wednesday, the legislators wrote “By removing our troops from the country, we will remove the main focus of the insurgents’ rage.”
The country’s largest human rights group has charged the Bush administration is eroding human rights around the world by ignoring international law and by mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In its annual report, Human Rights Watch says that when a country as dominant as the United States openly defies the law, it invites others to do the same. At the same it weakens the world’s ability to protect human rights. The group’s executive director Kenneth Roth spoke to reporters Thursday. Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch also called on the Bush administration to set up an independent commission to investigate the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
In addition, Human Rights Watch criticized the international community for failing to do more to stop the slaughter in Sudan where ethnic violence has left 70,000 people dead and 2 million homeless. Roth said, “Darfur is making a mockery of our vows of 'never again'.” The group specifically accused China and Russia of being more concerned about protecting oil contracts and arms sales to Sudan than saving lives.
At least six Israeli civilians have died and several others were wounded in an attack Thursday at a crossing point between Israel and Gaza. It marks the first major attack carried out by Palestinian militants since Sunday’s election. Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees took shared responsibility for the attack. In response, the Israeli government closed the three checkpoints connecting the Gaza Strip to Israel and Egypt.
Outgoing Education Secretary Roderick Paige has publicly defended the use of spending $240,000 in taxpayer money to pay off prominent news commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind law. According to the Washington Post, Paige described the payment as a standard “outreach effort” to minority groups to promote the education program. Williams is African American. Meanwhile a group of Senators has asked the Education Department to turn over records related to the case which may have violated a federal ban on spending public money for propaganda purposes. The ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, criticized Paige for not apologizing or pledging to put an end to “covert propaganda efforts.” In addition, Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said the FCC should investigate whether Williams, who hosts a radio show, broke the law.
In business news, Wal-Mart has launched a massive PR blitz that charges the company’s critics are spreading misinformation about the store. On Thursday Wal-Mart ran ads in more than 100 newspapers. The store has long been criticized for its treatment of workers and for its anti-union policies. According to a study by the House Education & the Workforce Committee, over 100 unfair labor practice charges have been lodged against Wal-Mart in recent years. And the U.S. government has been forced to issue at least 60 complaints against Wal-Mart at the National Labor Relations Board. A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said ” 'Wal-martization' is the single major threat to the U.S. because it means low wages, no benefits and high turnover. The future is bleak if the future of America is a Wal-Mart job.”
In other news from Washington, a top FBI official said Thursday the FBI may have to scrap a major computer program that so far has cost $170 million. The system had been described as critical to the country’s post 9/11 security efforts.
In news on the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, the Financial Times has uncovered that the single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food program was conducted with the knowledge of the US government. For months, the US Congress has been investigating activities that violated the UN oil-for-food program and helped Saddam Hussein build secret funds to acquire arms and buy influence. President Bush has linked future US funding of the international body to a clear account of what went on under the multi-billion dollar program. One former UN official told the paper “Although the financial beneficiaries were Iraqis and Jordanians, the fact remains that the US government participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam’s cronies.” The ofifical went on to say “This is exactly what many in the US are now accusing other countries of having done. I think it’s pretty ironic.”
And the American Civil Liberties Union urged the D.C. Court of Appeals on Wednesday to reinstate the case of former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, saying that the government is abusing the “state secrets privilege” to silence employees who expose national security blunders. Edmonds was hired by the FBI after Sept. 11 to translate intelligence gathered before the attacks. Based on the documents she saw, Edmonds charges the FBI knew that Al Qaeda was planning to attack the U.S. with airplanes.