News reports out of Iraq say that Two Algerian diplomats in Baghdad have been kidnapped. Among them is the chief of the Algerian mission. This follows the abduction and killing earlier this month of Egypt’s ambassador-designate in Iraq.
There have been more suicide bombings in Iraq. Reports out of Baghdad say that two car bombings and a string of other attacks in and around the capital killed 14 people. In one case, a car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing five soldiers. A second Iraqi army checkpoint in a southern Baghdad suburb was also hit by a car bomber, killing one soldier. Several Iraqi officials were also killed yesterday in multiple attacks.
Saudi Arabia’s longtime ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan is resigning for what the Saudi foreign ministry says are “private reasons.” The man known as Bandar Bush for his close ties to President Bush and his father has been the ambassador to the US for 22 years. He has enjoyed unprecedented White House access and influence in Washington circles. His father is Prince Sultan—the Saudi defense minister. Bandar’s resignation coincides with uncertainty about the country’s ruling hierarchy. King Fahd is seriously ill, and Prince Sultan could move up in any reshuffling of authority. Bandar himself has been rumored to be in line for a top security post in Riyadh. It now appears that Prince Turki al-Faisal, another member of the Saudi royal family, will replace Bandar as ambassador.
Supreme Court nominee John Roberts met with key senators from both parties yesterday as the White House rolled out a methodical campaign to secure his confirmation and Democrats posed their first probing questions. Abortion and access to internal government memos loomed as likely flash points as Democrats pointed toward the nationally televised proceedings. Meanwhile, civil liberties and women’s rights groups continue to protest against Roberts’s nomination. Last night in New York, City Council member Margarita Lopez spoke at a rally organized by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Now to the Karl Rove/CIA scandal. The Washington Post is reporting that a classified State Department memo central to the federal investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame’s name as an undercover CIA operative contained information about her in a paragraph marked “(S)” for secret. The Post calls it a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified. In the memo, Plame is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson. Almost the entire memo is devoted to describing why State Department intelligence experts did not believe claims that Saddam Hussein had in the recent past sought to purchase uranium from Niger, as Plame’s husband Ambassador Joe Wilson asserted after his fact-finding mission to the African nation. The memo was delivered to Secretary of State Colin Powell on July 7, 2003, as he headed to Africa for a trip with President Bush aboard Air Force One. Plame was unmasked in a syndicated column by Robert Novak seven days later. Prosecutors are reviewing the phone records from that trip and have questioned several of Bush’s staffers who were on that trip.
Meanwhile, eleven former intelligence officers have written an open letter to Congressional leaders saying the outing of Plame as a CIA operative may have damaged national security and the government’s ability to gather intelligence. They blasted the Republican National Committee for circulating talking points about the scandal that allege that Plame was not really working undercover because she worked at a desk in Langley and legally merited no protection. The eleven point out that thousands of U.S. intelligence officers work at desks in the Washington area every day whose identities are shielded, as Plame’s was when her identity was leaked.
An Italian prosecutor asked an appeals court Wednesday to issue arrest warrants for six more purported CIA operatives, accusing them of helping plan the kidnapping of an Egyptian Muslim cleric in 2003. An Italian court issued warrants for 13 alleged CIA officers last month but turned down a request by prosecutor Armando Spataro to issue warrants for six Americans accused of helping prepare the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. According to the AP, the prosecutor’s request says the six were involved in studying the area in Milan where the cleric was seized and his habits, as well as the best routes to the highway the kidnappers would use to bring the Egyptian to Aviano, a joint U.S.-Italian air base north of Venice. Nasr was allegedly snatched on a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, flown from Aviano to Ramstein air base in Germany and then to Egypt, where he reportedly was tortured. The operation was allegedly part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture.
The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said yesterday that western foreign policy has fuelled the Islamist radicalism behind the July 7 London bomb attacks. In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, Livingstone said: “You’ve just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of a Western need for oil. We’ve propped up unsavory governments, we’ve overthrown ones that we didn’t consider sympathetic.” Livingstone continued, “I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s … the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians to drive them out of Afghanistan. They didn’t give any thought to the fact that once he’d done that, he might turn on his creators.” Livingstone also blasted the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the US prison camp at Guantanamo. An opinion poll this week showed two-thirds of Britons see a connection between the Iraq occupation and the bombings.
Meanwhile, the man known as “Osama bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe”—Abu Qatada—is facing deportation to Jordan after British officials brokered a potentially groundbreaking extradition deal. Qatada is a Jordanian national and is wanted by eight police forces across three continents and is currently under house arrest in London. Under English law, a foreign national cannot be deported if he faces the risk of mistreatment or the death sentence. Human rights groups have raised concern about what they fear may become a pattern of Britain deporting Muslims that criticize British policy.
Emergency protests will take place in cities across the US today, as well as in Brazil to condemn the massacre of at least 23 Haitian civilians on July 6th in the neighborhood of Cite Soleil, by UN troops under Brazilian command. The protest organizers are calling for UN troops and Haitian authorities to stop the killings; for all UN soldiers from 20 nations to leave Haiti now; and for the restoration of Haiti’s sovereignty and constitutional rule. We’ll have more on this in a moment.
Two Afghans released from the Guantanamo prison are alleging that about 180 Afghans at the prison camp were on a hunger strike to protest alleged abuse and to push for freedom. They estimated the men were in the 14th or 15th day of their fast. A Washington-based lawyer for 12 detainees from Kuwait, said several prisoners told him during a visit in Guantanamo in late June that there was a “widespread” hunger strike over the amount and quality of their drinking water.
Canada legalized gay marriage Wednesday, becoming the world’s fourth nation to grant full legal rights to same-sex couples. The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are the only other nations that have legalized gay marriage nationwide.