In Iraq, a US military helicopter was brought down near the resistance stronghold of Baquba after coming under small arms fire. The helicopter was reportedly supporting US-led forces in the area. CNN and CBS news reported that the downed helicopter had been carrying two crew members. Resistance fighters also hit a second helicopter but failed to bring it down.
A suspected suicide bomb exploded today inside a crowded Muslim shrine near the Pakistani capital, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more. Thousands of worshippers were attending a religious festival at the time of the explosion. An Associated Press photographer at the scene counted at least 20 bodies, many of them in pieces, making it hard to give an exact figure. An intelligence official said at least 20 were killed and 150 wounded.
Amid widespread accusations and documentation of US military desecration of the Koran, the Pentagon held a special news conference yesterday to address the allegations. The military says it has identified five incidents of what it describes as “mishandling of a Koran” by U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay. Brigadier General Jay Hood refused to specify the nature of the mishandling of the Koran, other than to say it did not involve placing it in a toilet. That runs contrary to information revealed in newly declassified documents. In one 2002 document declassified this week, an FBI agent quoted a detainee in as saying guards had thrown a Koran in a toilet. General Hood said yesterday that military investigators interviewed that man this month, but did not directly ask him whether he had seen U.S. personnel put a Koran in a toilet. Here is General Jay Hood: “First off, I’d like you to know that we’ve found no credible evidence that a member of the joint task force at Guantanamo Bay, ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by joint task force personnel; 10 of those by a guard and three of those by interrogators. We found that in only five of those incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran.” General Jay Hood speaking yesterday at a Pentagon press conference.
A marine who shot and killed two unarmed Iraqis at point blank range has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the military. Immediately following the decision, the soldier, Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, said he did not regret killing the men. Prosecutors alleged that Pantano intended to make an example of the men by shooting them 60 times and hanging a sign over their corpses that read “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Pantano did not deny hanging the sign or shooting the men repeatedly after stopping their vehicle at a checkpoint. He admitted emptying one magazine of bullets into the Iraqis, then reloading and firing 30 more rounds. Pantano will continue his work training marines at Camp Lejune and his lawyer says he hopes to return to Iraq.
This news from Capitol Hill: Senate Democrats have forced a delay in the confirmation vote for President Bush’s nominee for UN ambassador, John Bolton. The vote to advance Bolton’s nomination to an immediate confirmation vote was 56-42–four short of the 60 votes that Bolton’s Republican backers needed. Democrats yesterday charged that the White House had stiff-armed the Senate over classified information on Bolton’s tenure in his current job as the State Department’s arms control chief, and demanded more information before the Senate can give Bolton an up-or-down vote. Here is California Senator Barbara Boxer: “Now what kind of credibility does he have walking onto the floor of the United Nations. Even if he’s baby-sat by Condi Rice who says she’s going to watch over him. What kind of credibility does the man have? He has this record of politicizing intelligence, he has this record of retribution, he has the most unprecedented opposition of anyone.” California Senator Barbara Boxer. A final vote on Bolton will not take place until at least June, after the Senate returns from a Memorial Day recess.
A judge in Austin, Texas ruled yesterday that the treasurer of a political action committee formed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay broke the law by not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. The judge ordered Bill Ceverha, treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority, to pay nearly $200,000 in damages. It will be divided among those who brought the lawsuit against him. All five plaintiffs were Democrats who lost state legislative races in 2002. The civil case is separate from a criminal investigation being conducted by the district attorney in Austin into whether the PAC funneled illegal corporate contributions to GOP candidates for the state Legislature. Three of DeLay’s top fund-raisers and eight corporations were indicted last year. Ceverha has not been charged, nor has DeLay who was protected by congressional immunity from having to testify in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and the Democratic National Committee have agreed to pay a total of $200,000 in civil fines for campaign finance violations in the 2000 elections. According to the Federal Elections Commission, Jackson and the DNC used corporate money for a partisan get-out-the-vote effort and voter registration speaking tour that was coordinated with the Democratic National Committee and included appearances by Jackson and Democratic House and Senate candidates.
This news from Indonesia: The U.S. Embassy has been shut down because of what US officials called an unspecified security threat. Several newspapers are reporting that the decision to shut down the embassy happened after a diagram of the building and details of how to carry out an attack were posted on a Web site by a group calling itself the Brigade Istimata International. It allegedly showed the location of the ambassador’s office, surveillance cameras and heat detectors.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has told all US personnel in Haiti whose jobs are not considered essential to leave the country. Family members of US diplomats are also being moved out. The US says the move is in response to growing protests by supporters of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, demanding his return from exile in South Africa.
In Egypt, the government says that a constitutional amendment introducing the first ever direct presidential elections won more than 80 percent approval in a national referendum. But the poll was immediately dismissed by the opposition who say the voting was rigged and characterized it as political trickery by President Hosni Mubarack. In theory the ammendment would allow other candidatres to seek the presidency. But the opposition says the conditions on presidential candidates are so restrictive that the ruling party would not face a credible challenge. Opposition leaders had called for a boycott of the poll and accuse the government of inflating turnout numbers.
In Durham, North Carolina this week, three large crosses were burned in separate spots around the city during a span of just over an hour, and yellow fliers with Ku Klux Klan sayings were found at one location. The cross burnings Wednesday night marked the first time in recent memory that one of the South’s most notorious symbols of racial hatred has been seen in the city.
And, more than a year after a firestorm of controversy surrounded Ted Koppel’s reading of the names of more than 800 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, ’’Nightline’’ plans a Memorial Day broadcast where they will read the names of the 900 who have died since then.