In France, President Jacques Chirac has named Dominique de Villepin as the country’s new prime minister after voters rejected a referendum on the European Union Constitution. Villepin is the former French ambassador to the United Nations and a close ally of Chirac. He replaces Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who resigned as prime minister earlier today. On Sunday, French voters decisively rejected ratification of the new European constitution, plunging president Chirac’s government into chaos and casting uncertainty on the future of European politics.
In Iraq on Monday, U.S. forces arrested and detained the head of the leading Sunni political party in Iraq. The politician — Mohsen Abdel Hamid — said U.S. forces burst into his home, tied his hands, put a hood over his head and then led him to an undisclosed location. Three of his sons were also detained during the raid. Following protests from Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, the U.S. released Hamid claiming the raid and arrest took place by accident.
Meanwhile four U.S. troops and four Italian soldiers have been killed in separate aircraft crashes over the past day. The cause of neither crash is known.
In the Iraqi city of Hilla, 27 people died Sunday after suicide car bombers hit a crowd of police officers. Another 118 people were wounded. On Saturday — three suicide car bombs exploded in Mosul — killing six and wounding nearly 60. Another seven died Friday in a suicide car bomb attack in Tikrit.
In Basra, the city’s police chief has admitted to the Guardian of London that he has effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers. This is in part because sectarian militias have infiltrated the force and are using their posts to carry out political assassinations. Basra is Iraq’s second largest city.
And in Britain, the Independent of London is reporting 11 British soldiers are under investigation for committing war crimes following the killing of an Iraqi civilian.
The U.S. mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq remained in the headlines throughout the weekend. Last week Amnesty International issued a damning report criticizing the Bush administration of ignoring international law. Amnesty’s William Schulz charged that Washington has become “a leading purveyor and practitioner” of torture and ill-treatment and that senior officials should face prosecution by other governments for violations of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture. Schulz said “If the U.S. government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved in the torture scandal.” He went on to say “If those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them.” Over the weekend General Richard Myers, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice all dismissed Amnesty’s report.
Gen. Richard Myers — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — claimed Guatanamo Bay was a “model facility” and that Amnesty’s report was “absolutely irresponsible.” During that same interview Myers revealed that the U.S. has detained 68,000 people since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Meanwhile Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN that he was “offended” by Amnesty’s description of Guantanamo Bay as “the gulag of our times”. Cheney said “For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.” Cheney also attempted to dismiss the widespread reports of mistreatment of detainees. He said “Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment. But if you trace those back — in nearly every case — it turns out to come from somebody who had been inside and been released to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.” Condoleezza Rice also weighed in on Amnesty’s report–describing the group’s findings as ’’absurd.”
Meanwhile demonstrators from Global Exchange and Code Pink interrupted a speech by Rice in San Francisco on Friday. The protesters stood up during the event and started screaming “Stop the torture. Stop the killing. U.S. out of Iraq.” The protesters were wearing black hoods and cloaks in an attempt to recreate the most famous image of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. The protesters were arrested and removed from the building.
The New York Times is reporting today that the CIA has created a new generation of shell companies to make it easier for the Bush administration to secretly fly suspects around the world. The paper focuses on the North Carolina based firm Aero Contractors which was founded by a CIA officer who once served as chief pilot for Air America–a Cold War era CIA owned airline. According to flight records Aero Contractors has repeatedly landed at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. The CIA appears to own 26 planes all of which are owned by a web of seven shell corporations that appear to have no employees. The planes are then operated by real companies that are either controlled by or tied to the CIA. In addition to Aero Contractors, the Times identified two Florida companies as likely CIA front companies: Pegasus Technologies and Tepper Aviation.
The Sunday Times of London is reporting that it has uncovered new evidence that the U.S. and British governments significantly intensified bombing raids over Iraq in the year before the 2003 invasion in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussin into giving the allies an excuse to attack. By August 2002–seven months before the invasion began — the strikes were so frequent that the Times described it as a full air offensive. At the time, the U.S. and British governments justified the bombings by claiming they were simply enforcing the no-fly zones.
A group of 40 retired military personnel–including many retired generals–are campaigning for the Pentagon to reverse last year’s demotion of General John Riggs. The three-star general was demoted after he warned that the U.S. military was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, he said that the Army would need to be substantially increased in order to meet its global commitments. This made him the first senior active-duty officer to publicly urge for a larger Army. Within months he was demoted. According to the Pentagon, he was demoted because he allowed outside contractors to perform work they were not supposed to do. But many believe the motivation behind his demotion was politics and the fact that he publicly disagreed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Baltimore Sun points out that a senior officer’s loss of a star is a punishment seldom used, and then usually only for the most serious offenses. In recent years generals and admirals faced with far more serious official findings including the scandals at the Navy’s Tailhook Convention, the Air Force Academy and Abu Ghraib prison have continued in their careers or retired with no loss of rank.
Meanwhile the Washington Post is reporting two Army analysts who played a key role in the intelligence failure on Iraq have received job performance awards in each of the past three years. The analysts had inaccurately concluded that Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy aluminum tubes in order to bolster the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The tubes turned out to be for ordinary rockets. But the Bush administration used the nuclear claim as a justification of war. No major reprimand or penalty has been announced publicly in connection with the intelligence failures on Iraq. George Tenet resigned as CIA director but was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bush.
In Israel, one of the country’s best known television personalities is making headlines for his criticism of Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories. The man — Haim Yavin — is known in Israel as Mr. TV. He was the longtime anchor of the news on Israel’s Channel One. Until this week, most Israelis had never heard him express his opinion on political matters. But that has all changed this week with the broadcast of a new film he personally shot about settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. During the film, Yavin says “Since 1967, we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people.” The New York Times reports that the film has been so controversial that Yavin’s own employer — the state-run Channel One — refused to air the film. Instead it is airing on the commercial Channel 2.
The United States has officially refused to extradite a Cuban man to Venezuela to face terrorism charges. The man — Luis Posada Carriles — is wanted to stand trial for the 1976 bombing of a commercial airliner that killed 73 people. Posada is a U.S.-trained Cuban exile who has been trying to violently overthrow Fidel Castro’s government for the past 40 years. He snuck into the United States two months ago and is seeking political asylum. The Cuban and Venezuelan government have accused the Bush administration of harboring a terrorist.
New studies show that the number of households in the country with a net worth of one million dollars rose by about 20 percent last year. There are now 7.5 million so-called millionaire households in the country. Meanwhile the Economic Policy Institute is reporting that real wages for non-management employees are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years. The last time salaries fell this steeply was at the start of 1991.