In Baghdad a large explosion has gone off near the political headquarters of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi injuring at least 10 people. The attack comes less than one week before the Jan. 30 national election.
On Sunday, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, John Negroponte acknowledged for the first time there would be problems in the election. During an appearance on Fox News Sunday he said “There will be some problematic areas, particularly in the centre, in the Sunni Triangle, especially the provinces of al-Anbar and Nineveh. But even there, great efforts are being made to enable every Iraqi eligible to do so to be able to vote.”
Meanwhile Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi threatened again Sunday to disrupt the elections. In a new broadcast he described candidates as “demi-idols” and voters as “infidels.”
In other Iraq news, the Shiite cleric who is expected to become the Iraqi prime minister after the Jan. 30 election has said he will call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops “as soon as possible.” According to an article in the Times of London, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said “No people in the world accepts occupation and nor do we accept the continuation of American troops in Iraq.” The leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq also suggested Iraq may reach out to Syria and Iran for help with future security issues. Interim prime minister Iyad Allawi responded by telling the BBC it was too early to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Two U.S. soldiers were convicted Saturday on charges related to the killing of an Iraqi woman who was working for the military as an interpreter. One of the soldiers shot the 28-year-old mother in the head. The soldiers originally lied to investigators and said the woman had shot herself. Later they admitted what happened but claimed it was an accident. Specialist Charles Hooser was sentenced to three years in jail and specialist Rami Dajani received 18 months in jail. Both received a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge. The Washington Post reports U.S. authorities paid the victim’s family $25,000 in compensation for her death.
The New York Times is reporting that during the inauguration, the Pentagon stationed in Washington a small group of super-secret commando forces similar to the Special Operations forces hunting for Osama bin Laden. Under a top-secret military plan codenamed Power Geyser, the commando units have been trained to conduct counterterrorism missions in support of civilian agencies inside the United States. The special-missions units belong to the Joint Special Operations Command, a secretive command based at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army unit Delta Force. The code-name Power Geyser was first made public in a new book titled “Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World.” The book, written by William Arkin, lists some 3,000 code names for secret governmental operations.
The Toronto Star is reporting the U.S. government is attempting to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Canadian citizen Maher Arar, claiming the litigation would jeopardize national security. Two years ago the Syrian-born software engineer was detained by US official while on a stopover in New York. He was then jailed and secretly deported to Syria. He was held for almost a year in an underground cell not much larger than a grave where he was reportedly tortured. Time Magazine in Canada recently named him the country’s newsmaker of the year. Now the U.S. government is attempting to have a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights dismissed. Invoking the rarely used “state secrets privilege” the Justice Department claims that any release of information on Arar could jeopardize “intelligence, foreign policy and national security interests of the United States.” Arar’s attorney Maria LaHood said “They’re asking the court to sanction their cover-up basically.” Update: Read PDF of the Justice Department’s “Memorandum in Support of the United States’ Assertion of States Secrets Privilege” — posted on Secrecy News]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has cancelled a planned trip to Germany for an upcoming security conference because he has been accused in a German court of committing war crimes. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint last month accusing Rumsfeld of war crimes and torture in connection with the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. German laws allows the trial of war crimes regardless of where they are carried out. The Center said it had turned to German prosecutors “as a court of last resort” because the US government “is unwilling to open an independent investigation” and had “refused to join the International Criminal Court”.
Michael Powell has announced he is stepping down from his post as head of the Federal Communications Commission. He was a leading advocate for deregulation and the relaxation of media ownership rules. We’ll have more on this story later in the show.
At the United Nations, the General Assembly is conducting a special session today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. On Sunday UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “The evil that destroyed six million Jews and others in those camps is one that still threatens all of us today. The global community must ensure that such horror never occurs again.”
The National Organization for Women has called for the resignation of Harvard University President Lawrence Summers after he suggested that men are biologically better suited to excel at math and science than women.
In environmental news, a new study has found that 44 nations are now more environmentally sustainable than the United States. The U.S. ranked below almost most of western Europe and half the nations in the Americas. Finland, Norway and Uruguay were ranked highest. Other nations ranking in the top 10 most environmentally sustainable were Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Switzerland, Guyana, Argentina and Austria. North Korea was ranked lowest.
In Venezuela, tens thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chavez rallied in Caracas Sunday. Chavez criticized the US and Colombian government for meddling in Venezuelan affairs. Colombia recently admitted it paid a bounty hunter to kidnap a top ranking member of the Colombian rebel group FARC while he was in Caracas. Chavez said “Venezuela must be respected! Nobody can deny that what Colombia has done is a violation of international law … (but) the only government that has defended this vulgar error is the imperialist government of the United States.'’ Last week Condoleeza Rice described Chavez's rule as “very deeply troubling.” At the rally some held signs with messages to President Bush reading “Venezuela is Not Iraq.”
The King of late night TV, Johnny Carson has died at the age of 79. For three decades he hosted the “Tonight Show” and became one of the country’s most popular entertainers.
Meanwhile Longtime journalist and radio commentator John Hess has also died at the age of 87. For 24 years he worked at the New York Times, he later became a regular on Pacifica station WBAI providing * daily commentaries* to end the WBAI Evening News. He continued writing and recording commentaries up until his death. Last year Seven Stories published his autobiography titled * “My Times: a Memoir of Dissent.”* In it he criticized his former employer, the New York Time. He wrote “muckraking…tended to make the Times brass nervous…Truly investigating, questioning, skeptical reporting was practically unTimesian.” Last year Hess started his web blog titled * “John L Hess Dissents.”* On the website Counterpunch * Alexander Cockburn wrote* “John Hess grew old the way journalists are meant to go old, but almost never do. He never stopped stamping on the toes of the powers-that-be, never lost his edge, never got out of harness.”
And another member of the Pacifica family has died. Folksinger and activist * Jolie Rickman* passed away last week after a battle with cancer. She is the former music coordinator at Democracy Now. This is her song “Romero” based on the lyrics of a homily given by Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero on the day he was assassinated, March 24, 1980.