Human Rights Watch has obtained an Army report that proves two Afghan prisoners died in U.S. custody in December 2002 after being beaten and tortured. According to the Army’s own report, the Afghan prisoners were chained to the ceiling and repeatedly kicked and beaten by U.S. soldiers. One soldier, Private First Class Willie Brand, was charged with manslaughter in a closed hearing last month. Brand acknowledged striking one prisoner 37 times. He was also accused of having maimed and killed him over a five-day period by “destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes.” The attacks on the prisoner were so severe that the Army reported “even if he had survived, both legs would have had to be amputated.” The killings took place three months before the Iraq invasion.
The Sunday Times of London is reporting that Israel has drawn up secret plans to stage a combined air and ground attack on Iran if diplomacy fails to halt the Iranian nuclear program. According to the paper, the inner cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave “initial authorization” for an attack at a private meeting last month. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice denied reports that the Bush administration has given Israel the green light to go ahead with such an attack.
In other news on Iran, the Bush administration has admitted that it has been difficult to gather good intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN Sunday “Intelligence in Iran is hard to come by. It is a very closed society. They keep their secrets very well.” The New York Times reported last week that a presidential commission concluded that U.S. data on Iran’s arms is “inadequate.”
In news from Lebanon, Syria has reportedly pulled one third of its troops out of Lebanon after coming under intense pressure from the international community. The remaining troops are scheduled to be removed before the Lebanese parliamentary elections next month. Pro- and anti-Syrian rallies continue to be held across Lebanon. The largest pro-Syrian rally took place in the town of Nabatiyeh where up 200,000 demonstrated in a rally organized by Hezbollah. Today hundreds of thousands have gathered in Beirut for the largest anti-Syrian rally to date. The protesters are marking the one-month anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The news from China: the nation’s legislature has unanimously approved a new law giving Beijing new authority to attack Taiwan. The vote was 2,896 to zero. The anti-secession bill gives Beijing the legal right to use force against Taiwan if it moves forwards declaring formal independence. Part of the law reads “There is only one China in the world. Both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China.” Taiwan split from China during a civil war in 1949 and has maintained de facto independence ever since. The Taiwanese government called the law a “serious provocation” and calls have gone out for major demonstrations against the law.
In news on Guantanamo Bay, a federal judge has temporarily barred the U.S. government from transferring 13 Yemeni detainees from the military jail back to another country because of concern for their safety. On Friday the New York Times reported that the Pentagon is seeking to transfer hundreds of Guantanamo detainees to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen. Mark Falkoff, one of the attorneys representing the Yemenis, said he was concerned his clients would be tortured in the custody of another country. In addition such a transfer would also sabotage a pending U.S. court petition on the legality of the detention of the 13 Yemins. Falkoff said “If they were sent away from Guantanamo, our court case would essentially be moot, because the judge would no longer have jurisdiction over the case.”
In news on Iraq, the post-war looting of Iraqi weapons site now appears to be more extensive than previously reported. This according to Iraqi officials who are speaking out on the issue for the first time. After the fall of Baghdad two years ago, U.S. troops failed to secure Iraqi main military weapons plants. The New York Times reports looters were able to systematically dismantle and remove tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein’s most important weapons installations. Iraq’s deputy minister of industry said equipment capable of making parts for missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear arms is still missing. That official, Sami al-Araji, said, “They came in with the cranes and the lorries, and they depleted the whole sites. They knew what they were doing; they knew what they want. This was sophisticated looting.” The United Nations has estimated 90 important sites were looted or razed. U.S. officials have said the military had too few troops on the group to guard all of the weapons sites during and after the invasion.
In Egypt, political opposition leader Ayman Nur, has been released after six weeks in prison. On Sunday he accused the Egyptian government of fabricating the evidence that sent him to jail. Nur confirmed that he plans to run for president in September in what is set to be Egypt’s first ever multi-candidate elections.
President Bush has tapped one of his closest personal advisors, Karen Hughes, to serve as secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She will be in charge of improving the image of the United States abroad, particularly in the Muslim world.
In news from Capitol Hill, hundreds of disabled veterans booed and jeered Republican House members last week to protest their proposed budget for veterans’ health care. This according to a report by the Hill newspaper. The proposed 2006 budget includes a 1.1 percent increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs. But representatives from the group Disabled American Veterans said more money was needed especially to serve the large number of service members expected to return from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs, mental illnesses and other service injuries.
In upstate New York, four pacifists calling themselves the St. Patrick’s Day Four are facing six years in jail for staging a non-violent demonstration two years ago at a military recruiting station. On March 17, 2003, the four activists entered a recruiting station near Ithaca New York, said a prayer and then poured their blood on the station’s windows, walls, the U.S. flag and on the stand-up cut-outs of smiling military recruits. On Friday the four defendants pleaded not guilty in federal court on a number of charges including conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States. One of the defendants Clare Grady, said, “What we do, I don’t consider it as protesting. I consider it as upholding the best of human law that we’ve come up with so far, and upholding God’s law.”