The increasingly deadly violence in Iraq is forcing the U.S. military to scale back plans to reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq. This according to a report in the New York Times. One officer interviewed by the paper Wednesday said U.S. military involvement in Iraq could last “many years.” Up until a few weeks ago, the military was openly discussing significantly reducing the number of troops from 138,000 as early as next year. But those plans are no longer being discussed. Over the past three weeks, nearly 500 people have died in escalating violence. According to the military, the number of car bombings in Baghdad has soared . Last year there were 25 car bombings–on average two bombings a month. But over the past 80 days there have been 126 bombings in the capital city. In addition, the military announced it has arrested 1,100 suspects in Baghdad alone over the past 80 days. One military officer admitted to the New York Times that the U.S. could fail in Iraq. He said “I think that this could still fail. It’s much more likely to succeed, but it could still fail.” He went on to say “if we let go of the insurgency and take our foot off its throat, then this country could fail and go back into civil war and chaos.”
Meanwhile newly released Army documents show that at least two Army officers staged mock executions of Iraqi prisoners in 2003. In one case, an Army officer took an Iraqi welder out to the desert and forced him to dig his own grave. The army officer then staged an attempt to shoot him.
On Capitol Hill, Senators have opened debate on a handful of President Bush’s judicial nominees. This comes as Republicans are threatening to change the rules of the Senate in order to bar Democrats from using a filibuster to block a vote on judicial nominees. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has accused Democrats of abusing their rights. But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has defended the filibuster as a “check on power and preserves our limited government. Three Republicans are ready to vote against the so-called “nuclear option.” They are John McCain of Arizona, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
In South Africa, researchers are now saying that AIDS is the leading cause of death in the country. One in three deaths in South Africa is caused by AIDS. In two provinces 40 percent of all deaths are caused by AIDS. The data is included in an unreleased report by South Africa’s Medical Research Council.
Under a new proposal to expand the Patriot Act, the FBI would be given greater power to subpoena records without a court order. Republican aides announced Wednesday that Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will soon introduce legislation to renew aspects of the Patriot Act and to give law enforcement greater power. Lisa Graves of the American Civil Liberties Union said the new subpoena power would “be a dramatic expansion of secret search powers.”
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is coming under new scrutiny for a series of interviews it conducted ahead of last year’s political conventions. Dozens of activists and antiwar protesters were questioned by local and federal authorities. At the time FBI officials and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said that the interviews were based on indications that protesters may be planning violent disruptions. Authorities said one specific threat involved plans to blow up a media van in Boston. But now the FBI has begun releasing documents connected to the conventions and they tell a different story. According to the Washington Post, the new memos provide no indication of specific threat information. Instead, one heavily censored memo from the FBI’s Denver field office, characterized the effort as “pretext interviews to gain general information concerning possible criminal activity at the upcoming political conventions and presidential election.” Mark Silverstein, of the ACLU of Colorado, said “It’s absolutely clear now that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force — the one right here in Denver — is collecting information about peaceful political activity that has nothing to do with terrorism.”
Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has requested the FBI hand over its spy files on several activist groups including the American Friends Service Committee, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the International Action Committee. In addition the ACLU is seeing FBI records for 10 inviduals including Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. The ACLU has alleged that all of the groups and individuals have been under FBI surveillance.
On Capitol Hill a top FBI official told the Senate Wednesday that environmental and animal rights activists are the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat. John Lewis–the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism–cited groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Lewis said “There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions.”
Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Congressman George Miller of California have both introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to seven dollars and 25 cents an hour. The federal minimum wage has not increased in eight years.
And in Houston, police arrested at least 16 activists during a protest outside Halliburton’s annual shareholder’s meeting. Over 300 protesters gathered to protest what they view as Halliburton’s war profiteering. Activists locked arms to block the entrance the meeting. Inside the meeting members of Code Pink confronted Halliburton CEO David Lesar. Police responded to the protests by riding horses into the crowd and tackling a number of activists in the street.