In a primetime address to the nation, President Bush defended the war in Iraq and rejected calls to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops. Bush spoke from Fort Bragg at a time that domestic support for the war has reached an all time low. “Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it?,” Bush said. “It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country.” Bush repeatedly tied the war in Iraq to September 11th even though Iraq had no role in the attacks. Bush used the word terror or terrorism 34 times and mentioned September 11th five times. “They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September the 11th, 2001.,” Bush said. “They will fail.”
Democrats widely criticized the speech. Speaking on CNN, Senator John Kerry accused Bush of creating a “third rationale” for going to war. Kerry said, “The first, of course, was weapons of mass destruction. The second was democracy. And now tonight, it’s to combat the hotbed of terrorism.” Kerry went on to say “But most Americans are aware that the hotbed of terrorism never existed in Iraq until we got there, and it has in fact grown increasingly as we are there.” Meanwhile a new Gallup poll shows that 45 percent of Americans now believe that the United States will never succeed in Iraq.
While Bush’s speech focused solely on Iraq — it came just hours after the U.S. suffered what appears to be one of its biggest losses in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded in 2001. A U.S. CH-47 military helicopter with 17 service members on board crashed in eastern Afghanistan. Military officials say it was likely shot down. The fate of the service members is unknown. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Iraq, U.S. troops have killed as many as three Iraqi journalists over the past week. Reporters Without Borders have called for an investigation into the shooting death of the program director for al-Sharqiya television. He was shot dead on Tuesday while driving near a U.S. convoy. On Sunday, a news editor with a local Baghdad TV channel was shot dead by U.S. troops in the capital. And on Friday, an Iraqi reporter working for an American news organization was shot and killed in Baghdad, allegedly by U.S. troops. The U.S. military has not confirmed any of the killings. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 45 journalists and 20 media support workers have been killed while covering the war in Iraq.
Meanwhile on Tuesday Iraqi police opened fire on a group of 2,000 demonstrators in the town of Samawah. One man was shot in the head. Seven others were wounded. The demonstration was organized by unemployed workers. Some of the protesters threw rocks at the police.
An Italian court official has said that Italy is preparing to request the extradition of 13 CIA officers accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan three years ago. Prosecutors also have asked the help of Interpol in tracking down the suspects, all identified as U.S. citizens. One of the suspects named was Robert Seldon Lady — the former CIA station chief in Milan.
The BBC is reporting that Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States has resigned after serving the post for over two decades. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was well known in Washington and had close ties to the White House. Because of his ties with the Bush family he earned the nickname Bandar Bush. President Bush met with him two days after the Sept. 11 attacks even though 15 of the 19 hijackers had come from Saudi Arabia. Bandar is expected to now seek a high ranking position back home — possibly as head of Saudi intelligence.
NBC News is reporting that the Bush administration raised the terror alert level two years ago after CIA analysts mistakenly believed they saw coded messages on the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. The CIA thought they had decoded a message that indicated attacks were planned on the White House, the Space Needle in Seattle and a small town in Virginia called Tappahannock — population 2,000. In response, the Department of Homeland Security increased the threat level from yellow to orange. Several international flights were cancelled and seven men with Arab-sounding names were detained and questioned in Paris.
This news from East Timor: A new report from the United Nations says an international tribunal may be needed in order to prosecute those behind atrocities carried out in 1999 during Timor’s referendum on independence. At least 1,400 people were killed by militias working by Indonesian security forces. The UN report concludes that not enough has been done to prosecute the killers. The report has not yet been released but a copy was obtained by the BBC.
Meanwhile in Washington, the House of Representatives voted last night to lift all restrictions on military assistance for Indonesia in next year’s Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network condemned the vote. The group’s Washington Coordinator, Karen Orenstein, said “This is a grave setback, which turns a blind eye to the ongoing violations and horrific record of the Indonesian military.”
The Canadian government is on the verge of becoming only the third nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Legislators voted to approve the new law on Tuesday. One member of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s cabinet resigned his post in protest over the vote. The Netherlands and Belgium have already legalized same-sex marriage.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Labor Department kept secret for more than a year government-funded studies that could hinder the passage of CAFTA — the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The studies had concluded that several of the countries involved in the trade negotiations have poor working conditions and have failed to protect workers’ rights. The studies’ conclusions contrast with the administration’s arguments that Central American countries have made enough progress on such issues to warrant a free-trade deal with the United States. The studies were conducted by an outside contractor — the International Labor Rights Fund. According to the AP, the Labor Department instructed the contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it couldn’t discuss the studies with outsiders. The Labor Department said such moves were taken because the agency had concluded the contractor had “failed to meet the academic rigor expected.”
And Cuban leader Fidel Castro has flown to Venezuela in his first trip abroad since 2003. Castro met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a summit to discuss creating a regional oil alliance that would help distribute fuel more cheaply to the Caribbean. Also attending the summit were leaders of Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Chavez said, “It’s a historic summit. As a world power in oil, we are extending them a hand.”