In Iraq, at least 120 people have died since Friday in a series of bombings. On Saturday a suicide attacker killed at least 36 people participating in a Shiite funeral procession north of Baghdad. A car bomb outside the capital killed 13 people. On Friday at least 74 people died in an attack on a mosque near the Iranian boarder.
Five members of an Iraqi family have been killed after US forces opened fire on their vehicle outside a military base near Baquba. Iraqi police said two men and three children were killed and two women and a child were wounded. Witnesses said the family was traveling to a funeral at the time. Military officials claimed the car was shot at after the driver ignored orders to stop.
the Independent of London is reporting British-trained Iraqi police operating in Basra have tortured at least two civilians to death with electric drills. Their bodies were later found with drill holes to their arms, legs and skulls.
In news from Capitol Hill the debate over the Iraq war has intensified to levels not seen even before Congress voted to approve the invasion. On Sunday Democratic Congressman John Murtha appeared on Meet the Press to repeat his call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. He’s the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and a 37-year Marine veteran. He has long been considered a Democratic hawk. Last week the White House immediately attacked Murtha following his call for troop withdrawal. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said “It is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”
On Friday Murtha was called a coward on the floor of the House by newly elected Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. Then on Friday night the Republican leadership moved to silence Murtha’s criticism by introducing a bill that was worded in a manner designed to split the Democratic Party The Republican bill proposed “the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.” The bill was rejected 403 to 3. The only legislators backing the measure were Democrats Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Jose Serrano of New York and Robert Wexler of Florida. McKinney lashed out at the Republicans for distorting Murtha’s message. She said “They took his words and contorted them; they took his heartfelt sentiments and spun them. They took his resolution and deformed it: in a cheap effort to silence dissent in the House of Representatives.”
In other Iraq news — five senior officials from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service have told the Los Angeles Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that information provided by a top Iraqi informant codenamed Curveball could not be trusted or confirmed. Despite the questions about Curveball’s veracity, the Bush administration issued dire warnings about Iraq’s biological weapons program based on his claims. President Bush repeatedly said Iraq had mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations in February 2003 that these labs could brew enough weapons-grade microbes “in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.” The Germans were shocked to hear Powell’s speech. One official said “We had always told them it was not proven.... It was not hard intelligence.” A month after Powell’s speech, chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, announced inspectors in Iraq had found “no evidence” of mobile biological production facilities in Iraq. But Blix’s announcement drew little notice at the time and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began two weeks later. Curveball was an Iraqi exile who moved to Germany in 1999. The LA Times reports the CIA corroborated Curveball’s story with three sources: Two had ties to Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. All three turned out to be frauds. Curveball claimed his brother was Chalabi’s bodyguard.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has quit the Likud Party and plans to start a new political party. His announcement came just hours after he asked the Israeli President to dissolve the Knesset and call for early elections. Also today, Sharon called the first meeting of prospective members of his new “National Responsibility” party. Sharon’s aides have reportedly said he wants to break with Likkud hardliners who opposed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon’s announcement came a day after the Labour Party–under the new leadership of Amir Peretz — voted to leave Sharon’s coalition government.
A former aide of Congressman Tom Delay is expected to plead guilty today to conspiring with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to bribe government officials, including a congressman, and bilk millions of dollars from Native American tribes. The official, Michael Scanlon, worked as a press aide to Delay and later became a prominent public relations executive. He has reportedly agreed to work with federal prosecutors investigating Abramoff. Scalon is accused of working with Abramoff in a scheme in which the lobbyist would direct tribes to hire Scanlon’s public relations firm without telling them Scanlon had agreed to kick back half of the profits to Abramoff. The pair received $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from half a dozen tribes. Prosecutors charge that Scanlon and Abramoff conspired to bribe Republican Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio who is referred to in the charging document as “Representative #1.” Thomas Mann, a Congressional specialist at the Brookings Institution said “I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century. Meanwhile newly disclosed documents show that Abramoff asked the president of the West African nation of Gabon for $9 million in order to set up a White House meeting with President Bush.
In other lobbying news, more than 60 lobbyists helped organize a $200,000 fundraising party for Tom Delay on Thursday night. The Washington Post reported the event was expected to be the largest fundraiser for a single member of Congress this year. Among the hosts were lobbyists from American Petroleum Institute and the Edison Electric Institute. Earlier this year DeLay helped push through an energy bill that included nearly $15 billion in oil and energy industry subsidies. Tom Delay was recently forced to step down from his role as House Majority Leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy and money-laundering charges stemming from a long-running campaign finance investigation.
In Georgia, an estimated 19,000 people demonstrated outside Fort Benning calling for the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. It was the largest protest to date for the annual event. 40 arrests were made. Protest organizers said the U.S. military has used the school to train Latin American military officials to torture. The protests are timed to coincide with the anniversary of the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. The weekend demonstration came just weeks after it was revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney was seeking Congressional approval for CIA interrogators to engage in torture.
Meanwhile in London, Amnesty International opened a three-day conference Saturday on human rights, prevention of torture and detentions. Amnesty said it was the largest gathering of former Guantanamo detainees and their families held yet. Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg spoke to Amnesty ahead of the conference. “The people who claim to be the upholders and defenders of freedom are debating now whether it is legitimate to use torture,” said Begg. “After all of what the world has been through arguing against the fact. And if it does in one way or another become legitimised, either mental torture or physical or psychological, which has been clearly used by several countries, then I think the world will spiral into something that nobody will be able to control.”
In California, more than 1,000 people, gathered outside San Quentin State Prison on Saturday to call on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to halt the execution of former gang leader Stanley Tookie Williams. Tookie Williams helped start the Crips street gang. But behind bars he has become a leading advocate for the end of gang violence. He has written nine books and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is scheduled to die on Dec. 13. Among the protesters were hip hop artist Snoop Dogg who called for Governor Schwarzenegger to halt Tookie Williams’ execution.
And this update on the CIA leak case… Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Friday that he plans to present new evidence to another federal grand jury. The announcement came three weeks after an earlier grand jury indicted Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Last week investigators questioned Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward for two hours after learning that a senior administration official revealed Valerie Plame’s identity to him in mid-June 2003. There has been great speculation over who within the Bush administration might have been Woodward’s source. The Times of London claims it is Stephen Hadley who is now Bush’s National Security Advisor. At the time Hadley was deputy National Security Advisor under Condoleezza Rice. Newsweek magazine has suggested it might be former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage.