A US military investigation has cleared the soldiers who shot dead a high-ranking Italian intelligence agent last month in Iraq. The intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari, died on March 4 after US troops opened fire on the car that was also carrying Giuliana Sgrena–the Italian journalist who just been freed from captivity. Sgrena and the Italian government have disputed U.S. claims that the shooting was justified. In a front-page editorial in her newspaper Il Manifesto Sgrena wrote today "After the apologies comes the slap in the face." Sgrena criticized the U.S. investigators for failing to take into account her testimony as to what happened. The Italian government has refused to endorse the U.S. Army’s findings. Italy maintains that that car carrying Calipari and Sgrena had been driving slowly, received no warning and that Italy had advised U.S. authorities of their mission to evacuate Sgrena from Iraq.
In other news on Iraq–it’s official -no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. On Monday the Iraq Survey Group published its final report on the hunt for WMDs. The group concluded that a two-year search had uncovered no nuclear, biological or chemical weapons stockpiles in Iraq. In addition the US investigators reported they had found no evidence that any weapons of mass destruction were moved to Syria before the war.
The Independent of London is reporting the US has forced out a top human rights investigator at the United Nations just days after he released a report criticizing the US for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The Egyptian-born law professor Cherif Bassiouni had spent a year in Afghanistan interviewing Afghans, international agency staff and the Afghan Human Rights Commission. His official title was "independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan." In his new report, Bassiouni accused US troops of breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents and torturing detainees. He estimated that around 1,000 Afghans had been detained. Bassiouni also indicated that the US-led forces had committed "sexual abuse, beatings, torture and use of force resulting in death." He wrote "When these forces directly engage in practices that violate... international human rights and international humanitarian law, they undermine the national project of establishing a legal basis for the use of force." Just days after he released his report, the UN eliminated his job under pressure from the United States.
In other news from Afghanistan, the BBC is reporting that a 29-year-old woman has been stoned to death for committing adultery. It marks the first such stoning since President Hamid Karzai took office. The woman–who was named Amina — was stoned to death by her husband, while her lover received 100 lashes and was released.
The city of New York has admitted that a total of 465 HIV-positive foster children took part in experimental AIDS drug trials between 1988 and 2001. At the time of the tests, all of the foster children were under the legal guidance of the city’s child welfare department. The city has been accused of using the children as human guinea pigs to test highly toxic drug cocktails. On Friday Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an outside non-profit organization had been hired to investigate whether the drugs were administered properly. Two City Council members — Bill Perkins and Charles Barron — have called for an independent probe. Most of the foster children involved in the experiments were poor and black, ranging in age from infants to teenagers. Last year a BBC documentary revealed that some of the children were forced to take part in the experimental drug trials against their will.
In Washington–more criticism is being leveled against John Bolton–president Bush’s nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations. The latest criticism centers on warnings issued by Bolton in 2002 and 2003 about Syria’s effort to acquire unconventional weapons. Former intelligence agents are now saying that Bolton’s warnings exaggerated the intelligence on Syria. One unnamed senior official told the New York Times that Bolton routinely sought to push his assertions beyond the views endorsed by intelligence agencies.
A new study by Save the Children has founded that almost half of the 300,000 children fighting in wars today are girls–some of whom are as young as eight years old. The report titled "Forgotten Casualties of War" says the girls are often abducted, raped and used as currency among fighters. Girls have been found fighting in a number of countries including Columbia, Pakistan, Uganda, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mike Aaronson, of Save the Children, said "When people picture conflict they think of men in bloody combat, but it’s girls who are the horrifying and hidden face of war."
In business news, United Airlines has reached a settlement with the federal government that will result in the airline saving $645 million in each of the next five years at the expense of taxpayers. The government is allowing the airline to hand over four under-funded pension plans in what the Wall Street Journal is calling the largest corporate pension default in U.S. history. As a result of the settlement, employees of United will receive smaller pensions that they were once promised. The Association of Flight Attendants described the settlement as QUOTE "morally criminal." Several of United’s unions have threatened to strike if their pensions end. The Center for American Progress noted on Monday that the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation agreed to allow the airline to shed $10 billion in pension commitments just as President Bush signed legislations making it harder for citizens to declare bankruptcy.
In Texas, the state House approved a measure Monday to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The state Senate must now approve the amendment.
Meanwhile Connecticut has become the second state in the country to offer civil unions to same sex couples. Over the weekend, the state capitol in Hartford saw a series of protests around the issue. Gay rights activists criticized civil unions as second-class citizenship. Meanwhile conservative groups vowed to fight the re-election of any legislator that supported civil unions.
In Long Island, a 39-year-old man has died after police shot him repeatedly with a Taser stun gun. The incident occurred Friday night after friends of John Cox called police because he was acting erratically. Cox reportedly had not taken his anti-psychotic medication. When police arrived, Cox became agitated and police shot him several times. Witnesses said police beat and kicked the man as well. Medical examiners have found that Cox had cocaine and alcohol in his blood at the time of the shooting.
In San Francisco, a federal court jury is expected to begin deliberating as early as today in a trial involving a series of activists who were repeatedly pepper sprayed by police during non-violent protests in Humboldt County in 1997. Video recorded at the time showed police swabbing the eyes of protesters with Q-tips dipped in pepper spray. Police continued to do so even after protesters screamed out in pain. The incidents occurred during anti-logging protests in the lobby of the offices of Pacific Lumber Company and in the office of then Republican Congressman Frank Riggs.
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