In Iraq, gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying Iraqi workers to a U.S. airbase in the central resistance stronghold of Baquba, killing more than a dozen people. The deaths came after assailants in two cars attacked the bus. This came a day after gunmen killed at least 24 police, soldiers and government workers on Monday. The latest violence follows a weekend in which more than 150 Iraqis died from suicide bombings.
Back in this country, President Bush on Monday appeared to backtrack on his pledge to fire anyone involved in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Amid clear evidence that two senior administration officials were involved—namely his senior advisor Karl Rove and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby—Bush now says he will fire anyone who “committed a crime.” Earlier statements by the president and the White House spokesperson, Scott McClellan, had promised that anyone “involved” in the leak would be fired. The distinction is an important one given there is little debate that Rove is involved. But there is debate over whether he committed a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which has significant loopholes. For example, prosecutors would have to prove that Rove knew Plame was operating undercover.
As calls build for the firing or resignation of Karl Rove, there is much speculation in Washington over who else in the administration may have been involved in the outing of Plame and the covering up of any criminal or questionable actions. In recent days, an increasing amount of attention has been focused on former White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, either as a leaker himself or as a participant in a cover-up. The New York Daily News reports that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is “looking beyond” the question of who leaked Plame’s identity to see whether White House aides tried to “cover their tracks” after her name became public. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg news agency reported earlier this week that “people familiar with the inquiry” were saying that Fitzgerald was reviewing Fleischer’s Grand Jury testimony. Much of the speculation surrounding Fleischer focuses on a Bush administration trip to Africa shortly after Valerie Plame’s husband Joseph Wilson published his New York Times Op-Ed debunking the Niger uranium story. Fleischer accompanied Bush and then Secretary of State Colin Powell on that trip. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff told CNN that Powell took a classified report with him on that trip, and that the report contained information about Plame’s job at the CIA. The prosecutor, Fitzgerald, served a subpoena seeking a transcript of a press briefing Fleischer gave in Africa, one in which he criticized Wilson as a “lower-level official” who had made flawed and incomplete statements. Fitzgerald has also sought phone records from Air Force One to determine whether presidential aides used the aircraft’s phones to leak Plame’s name. Fleischer has denied he played any role in the outing.
Now to the London bombing investigation. The British government is under fire after a confidential terror assessment report was leaked to the media that shows that less than a month before the London bombings, Britain’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials concluded “at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack the U.K.” The previously undisclosed report was sent to British government agencies, foreign governments and corporations in mid-June, about three weeks before the July 7 coordinated attacks. The assessment by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Center prompted the British government to lower its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe defined” to “substantial.” The center includes officials from Britain’s top intelligence agencies, as well as Customs and the Metropolitan Police. The leaking of the report comes as Tony Blair’s government faces growing public opinion that Britain’s participation in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the London bombings.
Now to the fight over the future of the highest court in the US. President Bush said yesterday that he plans to interview finalists for the Supreme Court so that the Senate can confirm the next justice by the beginning of the new term in October. Republican strategists with close ties to the White House are quoted today as saying that Bush could announce his decision this week. That way, the advisers said, the nominee could make courtesy calls on key senators next week before they leave for the August recess. Bush has tapped former senator and current TV actor Fred Thompson to escort the nominee around Capitol Hill. In recent days, Bush has been focusing on female candidates in search of a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Among the leading female contenders is Judge Edith Hollan Jones, who has expressed strong opposition to Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, The Hill newspaper is reporting that White House officials have assured select conservative leaders that they will not nominate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice O’Connor. Some conservatives have publicly expressed concern that Gonzales would be too liberal on abortion and racial preference issues.
Anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph delivered a rambling statement before being sentenced to life in prison for bombing an Alabama women’s health clinic. He was also forced to hear from some of his victims as well. Under a plea bargain that spared him a death sentence, Rudolph received two life sentences without parole for the Birmingham bombing. Next month, he will receive two more life terms for attacks in Atlanta.
President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons. The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn’t accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced yesterday that the Pentagon intends to move ahead quickly with the military trials of two prisoners at the Guantanamo prison camp and file charges against eight others. This comes after a ruling Friday by a three-judge federal appeals court panel. Rumsfeld said the ruling was a vindication of the Bush administration’s policy on prosecuting detainees. But lawyers for at least one of the prisoners said they will appeal the ruling, saying Bush violated the separation of powers in the Constitution when he established military commissions.
Republican Congressmember Tom Tancredo of Colorado is under fire for comments he made last week on a radio show where he said the US could threaten to “take out” Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalists were to attack the US. On a Florida radio show, Tancredo was asked how the country should respond if terrorists were to strike several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons. He responded, “If this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites.” The interviewer then asks, “You’re talking about bombing Mecca,” to which Tancredo replies “Yeah.” The congressmember went on to say that he was “just throwing out some ideas” but that an “ultimate threat” might have to be met with what he called an “ultimate response.” After massive outcry over his remarks, Tancredo released a statement saying he was simply trying to figure out what the United States could use as a threat to deter future attacks. As for the bombing of Mecca, Tancredo’s statement said “I do not advocate this. Much more thought would need to be given to the potential ramifications of such a horrific response.” Tancredo is reportedly considering running for president. He is known for his sustained attacks on undocumented immigrants.
The Justice Department is trying again to force tobacco companies to turn over $280 billion in profits that prosecutors say were the result of a campaign to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking. Government lawyers asked the Supreme Court on Monday to throw out an appeals court ruling that barred them from seeking the money.
The National Rifle Association has announced it is pulling its 2007 national convention out of Columbus, Ohio because of the city’s ban on assault weapons. The City Council passed a ban July 12 outlawing the sale or possession of semiautomatic rifles with pistol grips and detachable magazines. The gun owners’ organization had planned to hold its annual three-day event, expected to draw as many as 60,000 people, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
An Afghan militia leader who fled to Britain to escape the Taliban will be sentenced today after being convicted in a ground-breaking trial. Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, 42, was found guilty of carrying out a “cruel and merciless” campaign of torture, killing and hostage-taking in Afghanistan 10 years ago. Zardad was said to have kept a “human dog” at a checkpoint which savaged victims on his command. In the first trial of its kind under the UN torture convention, Zardad was prosecuted in Britain even though he is not British and the offences he committed were carried out in Afghanistan.
One of the main US military leaders during the Vietnam war has died. Retired Gen. William Westmoreland died Monday night at the age of 91. Many in the antiwar movement viewed Westmoreland as a war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Vietnamese. Westmoreland contended the United States did not lose the Vietnam War.