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In Iraq, a series of assassinations and bombings have been reported across the country over the past day. In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb exploded outside one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. Six Iraqis died and another 30 people were injured.
Gunmen dressed in army uniforms raided the Baghdad home of a senior defense advisor killing him and his son. Meanwhile in southern Iraq, the inspector general responsible for southern provinces was shot dead in his car. A top academic in Baghdad was also assassinated earlier today. The head of the German language department at Baghdad University was shot dead outside his west Baghdad home.
As a sign of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Filipino government has called on all of its citizens to leave the country. Some 6,000 Filipinos work in Iraq, many for the US military. Two Filipinos died in Iraq last week.
A member of the newly formed Iraqi National Assembly has accused U.S. soldiers of abusing him at a U.S.-run checkpoint. The Shiite lawmaker Fattah al-Sheik said a U.S. soldier kicked his car, mocked the legislature, handcuffed him and held him by the neck. Al-Sheik said “This shows that the democracy we are enjoying is fake. Through such incidents, the U.S. Army tries to show that they are the real controlling power in the country, not the new Iraqi government, and that they can impose their rules on every Iraqi.” U.S. forces said they were investigating the incident.
The Washington Post is reporting that in August 2003 Army intelligence officials in Iraq began discussing different types of harsh interrogation techniques that they wished could be permitted in US-run Iraqi jails. In one email Capt. William Ponce asked interrogators to submit wish lists of different types of interrogation techniques that could be used. In the email Ponce wrote “the gloves are coming off.” Techniques submitted included low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and the use of dogs and snakes around detainees. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after including one where a man died.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote today on the nomination of John Bolton to serve as ambassador to the United Nations. The New York Times reports the top Democrat on the Committee — Joseph Biden of Delaware–is planning to ask for the vote to be delayed. A series of new allegations on Bolton abusing his power at the State Department have emerged since the committee last met.
On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson spoke out in opposition to Bolton. He told the New York Times “He is incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views. He would be an abysmal ambassador.” Powell has not publicly commented on Bolton’s nomination.
The Washington Post is reporting that Zacarias Moussaoui has notified the government that he intends to plead guilty to his alleged role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui’s plan to plead guilty reportedly comes over his attorneys’ objections. A judge will be meeting with Moussaoui later this week to determine if he is mentally competent to enter a plea. Moussaoui entered a guilty plea in 2002 and then rescinded it a week later. His trial has been delayed numerous times in the 40 months since he was indicted. Moussaoui was arrested a month before the Sept. 11 attacks — after a flight instructor in Minnesota alerted the FBI to what appeared to be suspicious behavior. At one point the government had concluded Moussaoui was meant to be the 20th hijacker. But officials have since concluded that the planners of the Sept. 11th attacks ended up leaving Moussoui out of the final plan because they viewed him as too unstable. Moussoui will likely face the death penalty if he pleads guilty.
At the Vatican, Catholic cardinals have entered a second day of voting to elect a new pope. Votes taken Monday afternoon and this morning were both inconclusive. 115 Cardinals have isolated themselves inside the Sistine Chapel during the process known as the conclave. The Cardinals will cast as many as four ballots a day. Twice a day, the ballots will be burned–black smoke signals an inconclusive vote; white smoke indicates a new pope has been choosen.
Meanwhile a group of Catholic women are holding a conclave of their own to protest the church’s stance blocking women from becoming priests or from allowing women any role in selecting the new pope. A group called Women-Church Convergence launched an online Open Conclave to allow “the entire community of faith [to] make their views known about important issues in the church’s life.”
In Belgium police have arrested some 500 activists taking part in a citizens nuclear weapons inspection at a NATO airbase. Organized by Greenpeace and the group Bombspotting, the protest called on NATO to become a nuclear free alliance and for the US to pull its nuclear weapons from all NATO countries. Greenpeace estimates 480 nuclear weapons are now housed in six European nations: Italy, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Turkey and the Netherlands. Activists from all six countries took part in the so-called citizen inspections.
The Israeli government announced today former nuclear whistleblower Mortecai Vanunu will be barred for another year from leaving the country. Vanunu was released from jail last April after serving 18 years behind bars for exposing Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Under the original conditions of his prison release, Vanunu was going to be allowed to leave Israel within a year. But Israel has cracked down on Vanunu’s rights after he conducted a series on interviews with the international press including Democracy Now. Israel’s Interior Minister said today the country fears Vanunu will continue to speak about Israel’s nuclear program. Vanunu has maintained that he has no more secrets and has repeatedly called on Israel to allow him to leave the country.
The government of Iran has temporarily banned Al Jazeera from operating inside the country. The satellite tv station has been accused of inflaming protests by the country’s Arab minority in southwestern Iran. The network was the first media outlet to report on the demonstrations that have left at least three people dead.
Stun gun manufacturer Taser is back in the news. In California, the family of a 40-year-old killed in a Taser shooting has sued the city of Fresno and the Taser company for $25 million. Meanwhile in Orlando, Florida, a police officer is now facing criminal charges for shooting a handcuffed man with a Taser gun in order to force him to give a urine sample.
In California a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology named Billy Cottrell was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison for setting fire to an SUV dealership. The fire destroyed about 125 SUVs causing over $2 million in damage. In addition to the jail sentence, Cottrell was ordered to pay $3.5 million in retribution. Last year Cottrell told the Los Angeles Times by email that he was affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front. Four years ago, Jeffrey Luers was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison for the burning of three SUVs in Eugene Oregon.
In labor news, graduate teaching assistants at Yale and Columbia universities launched a five-day strike Monday. The striking workers are hoping to force administrators to recognize them as a union. The work action has been described as the first multi-campus Ivy League strike. Last year the National Labor Relations Board dealt graduate student teaching assistants a setback when it ruled that they are students and not workers, meaning they can not form unions.