New evidence has emerged that the U.S. military used chemical weapons during the assault on Fallujah a year ago. Last week the Pentagon confirmed for the first time that it used white phosphorus as a weapon to attack Iraqi fighters. But the Pentagon rejected claims that white phosphorus is a chemical weapon. White Phosphorus is often compared to napalm because it combusts spontaneously when exposed to oxygen and can burn right through skin to the bone. While the Pentagon is denying white phosphorus is a chemical weapon, a newly uncovered Defense Department document, reveals that is just how the military described it when Saddam Hussein allegedly used it a decade ago. A declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document reads QUOTE “Iraqi forces loyal to president Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorus chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels.” Meanwhile a British commander has admitted that he trained his troops in using white phosphorus as a weapon. Until now the British government has maintained it used white phosphorus but only for tactical purposes.
In Iraq, Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders have issued a joint communiqué calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S troops. The New York Times reports this marks the first time Iraq’s political factions collectively called for a withdrawal timetable. The communiqué was released during a reconciliation conference held under the auspices of the Arab League. Attendees included Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. The leaders also condemned attacks on Iraqi civilians, government institutions and oil installations, and called for the release of all detainees held without trial. They said Iraq’s opposition had a “legitimate right” of resistance but condemned terrorism and acts of violence, murder and kidnapping.
Meanwhile in Washington Vice President Dick Cheney spoke Monday at the American Enterprise Institute and warned against the withdrawal of U.S. troops. “Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahiri in control of Iraq?,” Cheney said. “A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further violence against free nations and a terrible blow to the future security of the United States of America.” Cheney also accused war critics of “corrupt and shameless” revisionism for suggesting the White House mislead the nation into the Iraq war. He claimed it was utterly false that President Bush distorted, hyped or fabricated pre-war information.
Back in Iraq–the U.S. military is coming under criticism after troops opened fire on a car in Baquba killing five members of an Iraqi family. Iraqi police said the dead included three children under the age of four. 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. A military spokesperson said “This is a tragedy. But these tragedies only happen because Zarqawi and his thugs are out there driving around with car bombs.” A relative of the family broke down in tears on Monday as he spoke to reporters. He was standing over the body of one of the men killed.
The British newspaper the Daily Mirror is reporting that President Bush considered bombing the Arabic tv station Al Jazeera last year. The paper based its report on a top secret Downing Street Memo that reveals Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 that he wanted to attack Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Blair allegedly feared such a strike would spark revenge attacks. The Mirror quoted one source saying “The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush. There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do — and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” Another British source said Bush’s threat was humorous and not serious. In 2001 the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul Afghanistan but claimed it was done by accident.
General Motors has announced plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs at its North American plants–about 9 percent of its total work force. It is the largest single US layoff since K-Mart cut 37,000 jobs in 2003. GM Chairman and CEO Richard Wagoner announced the layoffs on Monday. The United Auto Workers called the layoffs devastating and urged GM to start offering products that consumers find attractive, exciting and want to buy. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said “Workers have no control over GM’s capital investment, product development, design, marketing and advertising decisions. Unfortunately, it is workers, their families and our communities that are being forced to suffer because of the failures of others.”
The number of people living with HIV has topped 40 million worldwide for the first time. The organization UNAids reports 3 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses this year including 500,000 children. Sub-Saharan Africa remains home to more than half of those with HIV. And concern is rising over the spread of HIV elsewhere. Infection rates spiked in Pakistan and Indonesia. Latin America saw a record number of new infections. And the U.S., Canada and Europe also witnessed an increase in infections. It is estimated 5 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV so far this year.
In Ethiopia, a court ruled Monday that the government could keep imprisoning 24 opposition leaders. Political tension has been escalating in Ethiopia since a disputed election in May. Earlier this month police shot dead 42 demonstrators and wounded 200 others. Following the unrest, the government detained about 9,000 people — most of whom have since been released. However 24 opposition leaders from the Coalition for Unity and Democracy party remain jailed and might face treason charges. Amnesty International has declared all of the jailed opposition leaders to be prisoners of conscience. Among the arrested is Berhanu Nega, a U.S. trained economist who studied at the New School and taught at Bucknell.
A former aide to Tom Delay pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to bribe government officials, including a congressman, and bilk millions of dollars from Native American tribes. The aide–Michael Scanlon–agreed to pay back more than $19 million and to work with government investigators. He faces up to five years in jail. The Washington Post reports the Abramoff probe could expand greatly. Investigators are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff’s former lobbying colleagues.
The Boston Globe is reporting 45,000 low income families in Massachusetts will soon start getting discounted home-heating oil from a subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered to ship 285,000 barrels of oil to Massachusetts and sell it at a 40 percent discount. The deal was arranged by U.S. Congressman William Delahunt, the Venezuelan gas company Citgo and a Massachusetts nonprofit called Citizens Energy. Nationwide home heating oil prices are expected to increase by as much as 50 percent this winter because of rising oil prices.
The Council of Europe has begun investigating whether the CIA illegally used European airports in order to transfer detainees to secret prisons. Iceland, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Germany are carrying out independent investigations to determine if the CIA used air bases located in those countries for extraordinary renditions. The Washington Post recently reported the CIA had two secret prisons located inside Eastern Europe. The Post declined to identify the location of the countries at the request of the Pentagon but Human Rights Watch has stated the prisons are likely in Poland and Romania.
The Baltimore Sun reports Wal-Mart has quadrupled the number of lobbyists it has in Maryland in order to fight a state law that would force the retail giant to offer better benefits. Wal-Mart has hired nine lobbyists in the past six weeks bringing the company’s total to 12 in the state. The Fair Share Health Care Act would require companies with 10,000 or more employees in the state to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on worker health care or pay the difference to the state. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six other states are considering similar bills.
And the Houston Chronicle is reporting that the state of Texas likely executed an innocent man in 1993. The paper has conducted an extensive investigation into the case of Ruben Cantu, who was convicted of murder at the age of 17. Now his co-defendant as well as the only eyewitness to the crime have recanted and claimed Cantu was innocent. Because of the newspaper’s investigation, the judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney have now all acknowledged that Cantu’s conviction seems to have been built on omissions and lies. Cantu was executed even though no physical evidence tied him to the crime.