The Bush administration is facing new opposition to the war in Iraq from within the U.S. military. For the first time since the invasion, a group of 65 active duty service members are formally asking Congress to end the U.S. occupation and bring the troops home. The soldiers are filing Appeals for Redress to members of Congress. Under the Military Whistle-Blower Protection Act active-duty troops can file and send a protected communication to a member of Congress regarding any subject without reprisal. One of the soldiers is Marine Sgt. Liam Madden of Rockingham Vermont who served in Iraq for seven months last year. He told a Vermont newspaper, “The war is being paid for by American people and they’re not seeing any benefit from it, and neither are the Iraqi people. It doesn’t make sense to me.” The soldiers plan to publicly announce their campaign on Wednesday. Sgt. Liam Madden said they hope to collect two thousand appeals for redress and send them to Congress on Jan. 15 — Martin Luther King Day.
In Baghdad, the US military commander General George Casey held a rare joint news conference today with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. Khalilzad urged Iraqi leaders to work harder to achieve key political and security goals. He said that success in Iraq was still possible and could be achieved in a “realistic timetable”.
The press conference comes at a time when the White House is coming under increasing criticism over Iraq — even from Republicans. On Monday Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said “We’re on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working.”
The White House has been vague about how it is going to alter its Iraq policy but press secretary Tony Snow says that the president will no long say he wants to “stay the course.”
In news from Baghdad, U.S. forces are searching for a missing military translator. The military said it doesn’t know if the soldier — who is an Iraqi-American — was abducted or if he went AWOL. As part of the search, U.S. forces raided the studios of the TV station Al-Furat.
Iraq’s deputy prime minister Barham Salih met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. Salih expressed hope that Iraqi forces could soon take over more responsibilities.
Italy’s top spy is expected to soon be indicted on charges connected to the CIA’s kidnapping of an Islamic cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003. If indicted, Nicolo Pollari would become the most prominent official ever charged in connection with the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. Pollari has been the head of Italy’s military intelligence for five years. According to the New York Times, the case marks the first time a foreign government official has been charged, essentially, with cooperating with the United States to violate their own country’s laws.
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture said Monday that the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism has allowed other countries to justify using torture. Manfred Nowak said, “Today, many other governments are kind of saying: 'But why are you criticizing us? We are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.' ” Nowak said that because of its prominence, the United States has a greater responsibility to uphold international standards.
In business news, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in one of the country’s largest corporate scandals. Judge Simeon Lake said that Skilling’s crimes resulted in a life of poverty for thousands of people. At the sentencing, one former Enron employee called Skilling a liar, a thief and a drunk and accused him of cheating her and her daughter out of their retirement. After the sentencing Skilling claimed that he had not committed any crimes.
Reporters Without Borders has released its fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index and it shows the level of press freedom in the United States continues to fall. In 2002 the U.S. was rated as having the seventeenth freest press — now it is ranked fifty-third. Reporters Without Borders criticized the Bush administration for using the so-called war on terrorism to crack down on press freedoms. The report also criticized the United States for jailing journalists at home and abroad. Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf remains in a San Francisco jail for refusing to hand over video to the police. Al Jazeera camerman Sami al-Hajj has been locked up at Guantanamo for over four years. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held in Iraq since April. Neither al-Hajj or Hussein have ever faced charges. Reporters Without Borders found that the nations with the freest press were Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands. North Korea was rated as the worst upholder of press freedom.
In related news, a Spanish photographer working for the Associated Press has been kidnapped in Gaza. Gunmen seized Emilio Morenatti when he walked out of his apartment this morning.
The AFL-CIO has filed a complaint with the United Nations over a new federal labor ruling that could block millions of American workers from joining a union or being protected by the nation’s labor laws. The Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board recently broadened its definition of who can be considered a supervisor to include workers with incidental oversight over coworkers. Under federal law, employees defined as supervisors aren’t entitled to legal protections ensuring their right to join unions. The AFL-CIO filed its complaint with the International Labor Organization of the United Nations. Meanwhile Human Rights Watch has also criticized the labor board’s decision saying it puts the United States in violation of its labor and human rights obligations under international law. The group said the ruling creates a new category of employees — people without the authority of real supervisors and without the rights of ordinary employees.
Former UN chief arms inspector Hans Blix said Monday that the world needs to make clear to North Korea that they are not trying to overthrow the regime as they try to persuade North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons.
Hans Blix also criticized the United States for promoting a double-standard.
Election monitors from the Organization of American States have warned the Bush administration not to interfere in the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua. The Bush administration has openly opposed the current front-runner, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. The Organization of American States singled out Paul Trivelli, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez for meddling in the November 5th election. Last week Gutierrez said an Ortega victory could scare off foreign investors and jeopardize Nicaragua’s participation in the CAFTA free-trade accord with the United States. New opinion polls show Ortega has taken a strong lead and could win the election in one round. Meanwhile a leading Nicaraguan human rights activist — Vilma Nunez — is scheduled to testify this week about the U.S. interference before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that the Israeli military is withholding the release of a secret study that confirms there has been rampant illegal new construction in dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Some of the expanded settlements has occurred on privately owned Palestinian land. Security sources familiar with the study described the study as “political and diplomatic dynamite.” Sources in the Israeli military said the report is not being made public in order to avoid a crisis with the U.S. government.
Meanwhile Palestinian leaders are condemning Israel’s attack on the northern Gaza Strip that killed seven Palestinians on Monday. Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh denounced Israel for launching the raid at the beginning of Eid, the holiday that marks the end of the Ramadan.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described Israel’s killings on Monday as a “criminal massacre.”
And in Maryland, the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was the scene of a protest yesterday over the Bush administration’s handling of global warming. Two protesters occupied a ledge above the building’s front entrance and unfurled a banner reading: “Bush Let NOAA Tell the Truth.” Other protesters on the ground blocked and occupied the building’s main entrance. The demonstrators accused the agency of ignoring and actively suppressing science that details the threat of global warming.