U.S. and Iraqi officials have announced Saddam Hussein will likely be executed sometime this weekend. Hussein’s lawyers have been told to gather his personal effects. Hussein’s half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, is also expected to be killed. Hussein lost an appeal this week of his conviction for his role in the deaths of more than 100 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982. On Thursday, voices including the Vatican, the European Union and Human Rights Watch condemned the death sentence. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said: "The true test of respect for human rights comes when the human rights of someone who has violated in unspeakable ways the human rights of many millions of people comes into play." Human Rights Watch and other organizations say Hussein was denied a fair trial.
In other Iraq news, at least 60 people were killed in violence around Iraq Thursday. Dozens of bodies were again recovered from the streets of Baghdad. The U.S. military announced the deaths of another five U.S. troops, bringing this month’s U.S. toll to 90 — second only to 105 servicemembers who died in October.
Meanwhile, President Bush emerged from a meeting on Iraq with top officials at his Crawford estate Thursday with a familiar message. The president said he needs more time to work out a plan.
President Bush: "I’ve got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan. Obviously, we’ll continue to work with the Iraqi government. The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that’s willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding. We want to help them succeed, and so we’ll continue to consult with the Iraqis."
Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were all in attendance. The president also received some uninvited guests. Peace mom Cindy Sheehan and four other antiwar activists were arrested at a barricade on the president’s ranch. Sheehan said she wanted to display a "peace surge" as the White House moves toward a "troop surge" in Iraq. Sheehan’s son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004.
In Somalia, forces backing the Somali government are in control of the capital Mogadishu today after the retreat of fighters with the Council of Islamic Courts. The Islamic Courts fled without the firing of a single shot. Pro-government forces include militias linked to local warlords and troops sent by the Ethiopian government. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated calls for the withdrawal of Ethiopian soldiers.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "I would also appeal to neighboring countries to stay out of the crisis in Somalia and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia."
Reporter: "Are you calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops like the African Union?"
Kofi Annan: "I’ve already spoken to the president of Ethiopia about that, and it is essential that neighboring governments stay out of this."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, new figures released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem show Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians this year. B’Tselem says that’s three times more than in 2005. The figure includes 141 children. Nearly half of the total dead were not involved in hostile acts.
Here in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has concluded milk and meat from cloned animals is safe to eat and can be sold on the U.S. market. The ruling will face a public comment period before it’s up for final approval. Consumer and animal rights groups are already planning a public challenge.
Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer of Federation of America: "It will be sneaked into the marketplace, and we at Consumer Federation of America think people should object to that."
In other news, the telecom giant AT&T has agreed to adhere to net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet. AT&T made the pledge as part of its efforts to win FCC approval for its merger with BellSouth.
Facing a possible court battle over its lack of action on global warming, the Bush administration has agreed to declare the polar bear an endangered species. The move comes after environmental groups threatened to sue the White House for failing to protect the bears. The bears’ Arctic habitat has seen declining ice coverage by the year — a decline environmentalists blame on global warming. Despite acknowledging the conditions in the bears’ habitats, the White House indicated no plans to curb Alaska oil drilling or impose new limits on emissions of greenhouse gas.
Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies: "It’s in law now. They have to account for the voice of the bear and the impact on the polar bear of any actions that are taken. So they have to account for increases in global warming pollution that might be caused by a federal project or by an energy development project. We don’t know how they’re going to handle this yet, but by law, they should have to account for the inevitable impact of global warming, to global warming, of anything that the government does."
In New Orleans, seven police officers have been indicted over a shooting incident that left two people dead in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The victims, 40-year-old Ronald Madison and 19-year-old James Brissette, were crossing the Danziger Bridge when they came between a gun battle between a group of armed assailants and seven police officers. Madison, who was mentally handicapped, was shot seven times, including five in his back. Police initially claimed Madison was armed. His brother, Lance Madison, denies the police account. Four of the officers have been charged with murder. Announcing the charges Thursday, District Attorney Eddie Jordan said: "We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs."
In political news, former senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards announced Thursday he is entering the race for the 2008 presidency. Edwards opened his campaign in the Lower Ninth Ward district of New Orleans — one of the neighborhoods worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. Edwards called for steps to fight global warming and end poverty in the United States. He also spoke out against talk of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
John Edwards: "And it is a mistake — I want to be absolutely clear about this, it is a mistake for America to escalate its role in Iraq. It is a mistake to surge troops into Iraq. It sends exactly the wrong signal to the Iraqis and the rest of the world about what our intentions are there."
Edwards voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq but now says that was a mistake.
In labor news, union workers at 16 plants of the tiremaker Goodyear have approved a new contract that will end their more than two-month strike. Some 15,000 United Steelworkers members in the U.S. and Canada walked off the job in October seeking greater job security and continued healthcare after retirement.
And finally, here in New York, thousands of people passed through Harlem’s Apollo Theater Thursday for one last look at the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Brown died Monday at the age of 73. Brown’s golden casket was carried through Harlem by horse-drawn carriage and displayed for public viewing on the Apollo stage. Spectators braved five-hour waits to get a final glimpse at the man who revolutionized popular music.
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