In Iraq at least 25 Iraqi soldiers have died in a suspected suicide bomb attack at a canteen inside an army base in the town of Khalis. This comes a day after another suicide bomber blew himself up in the northern city of Kirkuk killing at least 22 people and injuring 80 others. At least 900 people have now been killed in the six weeks since the new Iraqi government formed.
Meanwhile Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has admitted that Iraq is statistically no safer now than it was two years ago when President Bush announced that major combat operations had ended. In an interview with the BBC he was asked whether the security situation had improved at all. Rumsfeld said “Well, statistically no. But clearly it has been getting better as we’ve gone along.” He went on to say “A lot of bad things that could have happened have not happened.”
On Tuesday Rumsfeld also defended the use of Guantanamo Bay saying it remains a key part of the country’s so-called “war on terror” and that the military has no plans to shut it down. He defended the treatment of detainees at the military prison. In a separate interview with the BBC he said “The people in Gitmo… have the best food probably, the best medical treatment, they’ve ever received in their lives.” Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings today on the legal rights of prisoners at Guantanamo.
Back in Iraq, the Associated Press reports that U.S. and Iraqi officials are considering granting amnesty to members of the Iraqi resistance in an attempt to prevent the break out of a civil war. One proposal would give amnesty to Iraqi fighters but not foreign insurgents.
And the Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. military has quietly given its support to Kurdish forces to carry out hundreds of political kidnappings in northern Iraq. A confidential State Department cable — obtained by The Washington Post — said the so-called “extra-judicial detentions” were part of a “concerted and widespread initiative” by Kurdish political parties to “exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner.” The U.S. military said it had logged 180 such kidnappings but Arab and Turkmen politicians put the number at more than 600 and said many families feared retribution for coming forward. Publicly the U.S. military claims the practice has stopped and is now condoned, but kidnappings were reported as recently as last week. The kidnapped men are seized in violation of Iraqi law and jailed for months at a time. Some have reportedly been tortured.
Also in Iraq, Australian hostage Douglas Wood has been rescued from his captors in a military operation. The 63-year-old engineer was kidnapped six weeks ago. Wood was born in Australia but lives in Alamo, California.
This news back home — Philip Cooney has a new job. On Friday Cooney resigned as chief of staff for President Bush’s environmental policy council just two days after it was revealed that he had edited government scientific reports in order to downplay the effects of global warming. Cooney came under intense criticism because of his ties to the oil industry — before coming to the White House, Cooney worked as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute. Now, Cooney is going back to his roots. The New York Times reports today that he has been hired by oil giant ExxonMobil. A recent investigation by Mother Jones magazine found that ExxonMobil has spent at least $8 million funding a network of groups to challenge the existence of global warming.
In Bolivia, thousands of indigenous protesters, labor activists and farmers marched in La Paz on Tuesday calling on early elections as well as the nationalization of the country’s energy resources and government. It was the first major protest rally since last week when President Carlos Mesa resigned and was replaced by the head of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez. On Tuesday Rodriguez swore in a new cabinet for the caretaker government. He vowed elections would be held within months.
The Pakistani government is barring a rape victim named Mukhtaran Bibi from leaving the country in an attempt to block her from publicizing her case. Amnesty International had planned to bring Bibi to the United States. Three years ago Bibi was gang-raped near her home. The rape was ordered by the tribal council as punishment for a crime allegedly committed by her 12-year-old brother. Last week — as she prepared to travel abroad — she was put under house arrest and then taken into detention. This came as a court ordered the 12 men connected to the crime to be released from prison. Meanwhile, in Washington on Thursday, President Bush welcomed Pakistan’s foreign minister and praised Pakistani President Musharraf’s “bold leadership” in the so-called war on terror.
The Washington Post reports President Bush has begun meeting prominent dissidents in an attempt to highlight human rights abuses committed around the world. Dissidents from Venezuela, North Korea, Russia and Belarus have all recently met with Bush or Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. But the Washington Post points out no such meetings have taken place with dissidents from Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. All four countries are close allies with Washington even though they have some of the worst human rights records in the world.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans are considering raising the retirement age to 69 for people who want to receive full Social Security benefits. Under current law, the age for retiring with full benefits is 65 years and six months. It is rising gradually until it reaches 67 for individuals born in 1960 or later. Sen. Charles Grassley — the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee — reportedly outlined the proposal last week for fellow Republicans.
Meanwhile Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders is expected to introduce an amendment to a massive spending bill in an attempt to overturn a portion of the USA Patriot Act that allows law enforcement agents to seize library and bookstore records without a traditional search warrant. Last summer, Sanders proposed a similar amendment. He lost on a tie vote only after House Republican leaders extended the time allowed for the vote to defeat it. On Tuesday the Bush administration threatened to veto the $57 billion spending bill if it weakens the Patriot Act.
In California, some 16,000 clerical workers at the University of California are in the midst of a three-day strike to demand higher pay. The strike is affecting the university’s 10 campuses, five medical centers as well as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
And in Wisconsin, the state’s Democratic party has passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The resolution called on Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against the three officials accusing them of misleading the country in the lead up to the war in Iraq. Last year the Democratic party in Nevada passed a similar resolution. The national Green Party as well as former presidential candidate Ralph Nader have also called for Bush’s impeachment.