In Iraq, 3500 US and Iraqi forces have launched a major offensive along the Syrian border. The New York Times reports it is the largest assault the Marines have conducted since the invasion of Fallujah in February. At least one U.S. Marine has been killed in fighting. The Iraqi death toll is unknown. U.S. warplanes have reportedly dropped 500-pound bombs on at least 10 locations.
Most communication to the Sunni towns of Husaybah and Qaim has been cut off. An Iraqi journalist in Husaybah told Al-Jazeera “The city is suffering a complete lack of all of life’s basic necessities. There is no fuel and winter is upon us. There is no food and there are no services whatsoever, not even health services.” The journalist said that ambulances have been unable to respond to emergencies because no movement is allowed in the city. “They destroyed Qaim, Americans bombed everything, our houses are destroyed, our children are victims and we want a solution,” one resident told Reuters. “What do we have to do? We need a solution.” Residents have been forced to flee the town on foot. The Associated Press reported that the U.S.-led forces warned over loudspeakers that anyone leaving the town in vehicles would be shot. The U.S. said Operation Steel Curtain was needed to stop foreign fighters from crossing the Syrian border. Meanwhile Sunni politicians criticized the U.S.-led attack. The head of the moderate Iraqi Islamic Party Mohsen Abdul-Hamid said “We reject all military operations directed against civilian targets because such acts lead to the killing of innocent people and the destruction of towns and cities.”
The New York Times is reporting the Bush administration was warned in February 2002 that intelligence reports alleging ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda were likely fabricated by a member of Al-Qaeda in U.S. detention. However the Bush administration ignored the Defense Intelligence Agency warning that the detainee — Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi–was lying. His faulty claims were repeatedly used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Eight months after the DIA issued its warning, President Bush gave a major speech in Cincinnati in which he said “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Earlier this year Newsweek magazine revealed Al-Libi may have begun speaking to interrogators after he was tortured. Al-Libi was captured in November 2001 in Afghanistan. He was handed over to the CIA for questioning and eventually flown to Egypt.
The former head of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi is heading to Washington this week for his first official trip in over two years. He is planning on speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday and will be meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary John Snow. Before the invasion of Iraq, Chalabi had close ties to the Pentagon as well as some reporters including Judith Miller of the New York Times. He has been accused of feeding fabricated information about Iraq’s weapons capabilities to US intelligence agencies and to journalists ahead of the Iraq invasion. Questions have also arisen over his close ties to Iran. Over the weekend Chalabi was in Tehran for closed-door meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last year the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded Iranian intelligence had used aides of Chalabi to pass disinformation to the United States.
In France unrest escalated around the country this weekend as youths continued rioting for an eleventh straight night. On Sunday, rioters opened fire on police in a working-class suburb of Paris, wounding ten officers. By Sunday, 3,300 cars had been destroyed throughout the country, along with dozens of public buildings and private businesses. More than 300 people have been detained. Earlier today police announced the first fatality since the unrest began — a man died after being beaten while trying to extinguish a trash can fire. We’ll go to Paris for a report in a few minutes.
President Bush’s trip to Argentina ended without any agreement on reviving talks to create a regional free trade zone. Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina all declined to take part in further negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas. On Friday, as many as 40,000 demonstrators filled the streets of Mar del Plate in Argentina. Protesters included Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales and Argentine soccer star Diego Marodonna. While Bush attended the Summit of Americas, over 10,000 people rallied a nearby soccer stadium for a counter-summit led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In news from Washington: President Bush has ordered all White House aides to take a refresher course on ethics. The briefings will focus in part on government rules about handling classified information. The announcement was made two weeks after the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
A federal grand jury has subpoenaed Republican Congressman Robert Ney as part of its investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The editors of the Washington Post are coming under criticism for the paper’s reporting on the CIA’s network of overseas secret prisons. Last week the Post revealed the CIA was operating secret prisons in several Eastern European nations but the paper agreed not to identify the countries under a request from the Pentagon. Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives told the Columbia Journalism Review, “This is probably the most important newspaper capitulation since [the New York Times] yielded to JFK’s call for them not to run the full story of planning for the Bay of Pigs.” Kornbluh went on to say “By withholding the country names, the Post is directly enabling the rendition, secret detention, and torture of prisoners at these locations to continue. That is a ghastly responsibility.” Human Rights Watch has identified Poland and Romania as two likely locations for the secret prisons but officials from both countries have denied the claim.
Over the weekend UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak urged the European Union and the Council of Europe to conduct “high-level” investigations into the allegations of secret CIA prisons in Europe.
The Washington Post is reporting that the Bush administration has greatly expanded the use of national security letters to secretly collect personal information about citizens. The Post reports the number of letters sent annually has increased from about 300 to 30,000. The FBI has used national security letters since the 1970s but the Patriot Act of 2001 made it easier for agents to issue the letters. The little-known procedure allows FBI to secretly force businesses to hand over detailed information about individuals even if they have no direct connection to a terrorist investigation. Businesses served letters are barred from disclosing anything about the request including the fact that it was made. According to the Post, such information collected could include where you make and spend money, what you buy online, where you travel, what you search for and read online, and who you call or e-mail at home and at work. The best-known use of national security letters occurred in Las Vegas last year. After learning of an alleged terrorist threat, FBI officials ordered private businesses including casinos to hand over detailed information about every hotel guest in the city, every person who rented a car, every lease on a storage space and every airline passenger who landed in the city.
In other Iraq news, a United Nations auditing board has called on the United States to repay the Iraqi government $208 million. The UN board determined Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root over-billed and did shoddy work on reconstruction projects paid for with Iraqi oil revenue. Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle reports five former Halliburton employees are suing the company claiming they failed to pay workers in Iraq and Kuwait overtime. The lawsuit claims Halliburton shorted up to 40,000 truck drivers, cooks and mechanics.
The New York Times is reporting that Kenneth Tomlinson is now being investigated for misusing funds of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Tomlinson is best known for his tenure at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He resigned from that post last week. He remains however chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other overseas government broadcasts. In recent weeks State Department investigators have seized records from the agency including e-mails between Tomlinson and Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief advisor. Meanwhile the Financial Times reports the head of the U.S.-run Arabic satellite TV station Al Hurra has quit. Congress is looking into Al Hurra’s financial affairs and programming and will hold a hearing next week.
And public access TV stations across the country are planning on stopping programming tonight in protest of new Congressional legislation that could lead to the elimination of public access television. At 9 p.m. eastern-standard time, scores of stations are planning to air one minute of snow. Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said “this snowstorm is to remind communities what could be lost if new cable legislation before Congress is not fixed to protect the wonderful community channels we have all come to know and love.”