A top Army official has announced the military is preparing to keep 120,000 troops in Iraq through the end of 2006. The Army’s top operations officer Lt. Gen. James Lovelace conveyed the plan to reporters Monday.
Meanwhile the White House is expected to announce today plans to request another $80 billion from Congress to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has set aside nine hours today to debate the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and her role in the push for the Iraq invasion.
Meanwhile Republican Senator John McCain has called for hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee on the recent disclosure that the Pentagon has created a secret new spy unit known as the Strategic Support Branch. The unit was first disclosed by the Washington Post on Sunday. According to news reports, the clandestine teams are drawn from specialists from within the Defense Intelligence Agency and provide the military’s elite Special Ops units with battlefield intelligence. The Washington Post reports that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to reinterpret US law to allow the military spy unit to operate and that it was created without explicit congressional authority or appropriation. The unit has been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past two years. An early memo on the project indicated the Pentagon would also send spies to nations where no official U.S. military operations are taking place including Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia. The Post reports that the secret unit would recruit outside agents, including notorious figures whose “links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed.”
A new report from Human Rights Watch has found that Iraqi security forces are committing systematic torture against detainees in Iraqi jails. The report is based on interviews with 90 former detainees, 72 of whom alleged they had been tortured or abused. Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch said “The people of Iraq were promised something better than this after the government of Saddam Hussein fell.”
Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union released more government documents Monday that revealed Iraqi prisoners have lodged as many as 90 complaints of abuse against the U.S. after being held at a little known U.S.-run jail. The prison is housed in a former palace in Baghdad that was once used by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. Detainees were reportedly sodomized, tortured with electric shocks, beaten and burned with cigarettes. One elderly Iraqi woman reported being sodomized with a stick. The Washington Post reports the latest documents show that few Army personnel have been charged with criminal conduct even when they have admitted to beating or threatening to kill Iraqi detainees. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said “Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse. The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib.”
The military revealed for the first time on Monday that 23 detainees held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay attempted to hang or strangle themselves during a mass protest in 2003.
In other news from Guantanamo, four British detainees who have been held at the base without trial for nearly three years are scheduled to arrive home today. But the Financial Times reports the men are expected to be arrested by British authorities as soon as they are released from U.S. custody. Their lawyers said it is unclear how long they may be held. Family members are expected to be allowed to visit them in jail tomorrow.
The death toll from last month’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean has soared to 288,000. On Monday the Indonesia health minister announced that 220,000 people in Indonesia are now believed to be dead or missing. In the province of Aceh, rescue workers are still pulling corpses from the wreckage one month after the disaster.
In medical news, a newly published study on the arthritis drug Vioxx has estimated the drug caused as many as 140,000 cases of heart disease and 56,000 deaths during the five years that it was on the market. The study appears on the website of the British medical journal Lancet. The study publication had been previously blocked by the Food and Drug Administration. The study found that low doses of Vioxx increased the risk of heart disease by about 50%, and higher doses increased it by 358%. The author of the study, Dr. David Graham of the FDA said he was pressured not to publish the study last November. The Pharmaceutical company Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September.
Meanwhile the watchdog group Public Citizen petitioned the Food and Drug Administration Monday to immediately remove the widely prescribed pain relievers, Celebrex and Bextra. Both drugs are in the family of drugs as Vioxx. The group cited several studies that show the drugs increase the risk of heart attacks in patients.
In other medical news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found the nation’s infant mortality rate rose in 2002 for the first time since 1958. The CDC said the reason was an increase in the number of premature babies being born.
Biotech giant Monsanto has announced it is purchasing Seminis, the world’s biggest produce-seed company. The $1 billion purchase is seen as a sign that Monsanto plans to eventually expand into growing genetically engineered vegetables and fruit. Seminis controls about one-third of the seeds used to grow fruits and vegetables found in the country’s supermarkets.
In news from Washington, President Bush told a gathering of thousands of abortion protesters Monday that “This movement will not fail.” Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Washington to mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Bush called into the protest from Camp David and told the crowd “This is the path of the culture of life that we seek for our country.”
The Israeli government admitted Monday that last summer it secretly approved a measure that says it can seize land in East Jerusalem owned by Palestinians who live elsewhere. The decision could affect hundreds of Palestinian property owners and thousands of acres of land. The newspaper Haaretz reports the move could result in Israel seizing half of all property in East Jerusalem. Hanna Nasser, the mayor of neighboring Bethlehem, said, “This is state theft, pure and simple.”
And finally this news from Guyana: The country’s president Bharrat Jagdeo is complaining that the international community has failed to adequately help the country recover from devastating floods that have killed at least six and forced thousands from their homes. During a recent three-week period, a record 40 inches of rain was recorded. About half of the Guyana’s 750,000 residents have been affected by the floods