The military has suffered its deadliest day so far since the Iraq invasion began. On Wednesday a military helicopter crashed near the Jordanian border killing 30 Marines and one Navy sailor. Another six soldiers died in combat bringing the day’s total death toll to 37. President Bush described Wednesday as a “very discouraging day.” The U.S. has now lost over 1,400 soldiers in Iraq. The cause of the helicopter crash is still unknown. It occurred during a sandstorm but investigators have not determined the actual cause. The Marines were being transported to take part in an effort to provide security for Sunday’s national election.
Violence continues to mount across Iraq. The New York Times reports the US and Iraqi forces no longer control major portions of Baghdad. One U.S. colonel in the Iraqi capital described southern Baghdad as “enemy territory.” Last week Baghdad saw nearly 100 militant attacks including 7 suicide car bombings, 37 roadside bombs and 52 militant attacks involving rifles or grenades.
In Ramadi the Los Angeles Times reports the entire 1,000 member Iraqi police force has resigned.
UPI is reporting the U.S. Air Force has begun flying combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in what could be viewed as an act of war. The report comes less than two weeks after investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that secret US forces are already on the ground locating possible sites to target.
According to UPI, the US military is hoping to lure Tehran into turning on its air defense radars which would allow US pilots to pinpoint where the radar systems are located so they could be targeted during an invasion.
UPI also reports that US Special Forces are using Iraqi Kurds near the Iranian border as well as members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq or MEK to gather intelligence inside Iran. UPI reports the MEK are now launching incursions into Iran from Basra as well as Pakistan.
One longtime CIA operator in the region said “This looks to be turning into a pretty large-scale covert operation.” UPI also reports the US has begun creating a network of front companies inside Iran in order to be able to move money, weapons and personnel around inside the country,
On Capitol Hill, the Senate approved the nomination of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State by a vote of 85-13.
Next week’s vote on Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales is expected to be much closer. On Wednesday he was narrowly approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a10-8 vote on party lines.
Another one of President Bush’s new cabinet members is already making headlines. On her second day in office, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced PBS for using public money to create a cartoon episode that includes lesbian characters.
In one of her first acts as Education Secretary, Spellings wrote a letter to PBS complaining “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed.” The show generating controversy is called “Postcards from Buster.” In a still not-yet-aired segment, one episode features the title character Buster traveling to Vermont. While the episodes focuses mostly on Vermont’s farm life and maple sugar industry, the show’s main character does come across two lesbian couples living in the state. In her letter, Spellings suggested PBS return any federal funding used to produce the program.
Later that same day PBS announced it would not distribute the controversial episode to its 349 stations. PBS said the objections from the Education Department were not a factor in the decision. The PBS station that produced the show, WGBH in Boston, plans to air the program on March 23 and will make the show available to other stations.
Margaret Spellings comes into office replacing Education Secretary Rod Paige. She has worked with Bush since the late 1980s when they were introduced by Karl Rove. Most recently Spellings served as Bush’s chief adviser on domestic issues and she co-write the No Child Left Behind Act. Bush and Spellings are known to be very close. When Bush nominated her in November, he surprised many journalists when he kissed her just off the lips during the announcement ceremony.
In other news from Washington, Douglas Feith has announced he is stepping down from his post as undersecretary of defense. He was one of the chief architects of the Iraq war and advocates for a neoconservative foreign policy.
Holocaust survivors and world leaders gathered in Poland today to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. More than a million people were murdered in the Auschwitz “death factory”. Most of the victims were Jewish. Today’s gathering was attended by 2,000 Holocaust survivors and more than 40 heads of state. Vice President Dick Cheney is there to represent the Bush administration.
The four British detainees released this week from Guantanamo Bay have returned home to their families. They have told their attorneys they were victims of 'systematic torture.' Attorney Clive Stafford Smith said his client Moazzam Begg suffered persistent beatings, death threats and psychological torture first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, then at the Cuba base. Another attorney for Begg said her client has changed greatly over the past four years. Gareth Pierce said “I see starkly the physical difference in him _ his face is the face of someone who has been through a severe ordeal. He looks like he has been to hell and back.” The four men freed from Guanatanamo were initially detained by British police but released after one night. The men are now suing the U.S. for tens of millions of dollars.
A major new study on climate change is warning that global warming might be twice as catastrophic as previously thought. This is according to a new study published today in the journal Nature. The study found the Earth’s climate is far more sensitive to increases in man-made greenhouse gases than previously realized. Meanwhile at the World Economic Forum in Davos, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the US to tackle global warming. And the Guardian of London reports that lobby groups funded by the US oil industry are targeting Britain in a bid to play down the threat of climate change and derail government action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
And attorney Lynne Stewart’s defense team unsuccessfully asked the judge to declare a mistrial Wednesday after a bizarre incident outside the courthouse. According to the New York Times six jurors were being transported home in a van Tuesday when the van driver took an unexpected turn outside the court and drove through a crowd of news camera crews and then rolled down his window to shout at a group of supporters of Stewart. The driver reportedly loudly asked “Who’s Lynne Stewart?” The jury on the Stewart case has been deliberating since Jan. 12 but have only met sporadically.