President Bush has rejected some of the key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report. At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday, the president all but ruled out the early withdrawal of combat troops. He also repeated the administration’s long-standing policy of refusing to negotiate with Iran and Syria unless both countries meet preconditions. The president said Iran must agree to abandon nuclear activities and Syria must stop supporting the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Bush insisted he is taking the recommendations seriously but that he doesn’t think he’s expected to accept them as a whole. But in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Iraq Study Group co-chair James Baker contradicted the president.
Iraq Study Group co-chair James Baker: “I hope we don’t treat this like a fruit salad and say, 'I like this, but I don't like that, I like this, but I don’t like that.’ This is a comprehensive strategy designed to deal with this problem we’re facing in Iraq, but also designed to deal with other problems that we face in the region and to restore America’s standing and credibility in that part of the world.”
In defending his rejection of the Iraq Study Group proposals, President Bush invoked the 9/11 attacks and said failure in Iraq could bring new attacks on the United States.
President Bush: “I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail — and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it’s just not worth it — if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.”
President Bush and Tony Blair also rejected changing their approach on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The U.S. and Britain have led an international aid freeze on the Palestinian government. Blair insisted they were committed to bringing a lasting peace.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “It is important that we do everything we can in the wider Middle East to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is something that I know you feel deeply and passionately about; you are the first president who committed yourself to the two-state solution. And I believe that by moving this forward, we send a very strong signal not just to the region, but to the whole of the world that we are evenhanded and just in the application of our values, that we want to see an Israel confident of its security and a Palestinian people able to live in peace and justice and democracy.”
As Bush and Blair announced their refusal to lift their aid freeze on the Palestinian government, the United Nations launched a record $450 million appeal for emergency aid for Palestinians.
Kevin Kennedy, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Territories: “You may look at this appeal, at its size, and think this is massive, huge. I can assure you there are no extras in this appeal. This meets the basic needs as we see, as we assess, as we observe, as we consult, as we monitor. This reflects the current situation here in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”
The U.N. says two-thirds of the Palestinian population live below the poverty line and half are now “food insecure.”
Meanwhile in Iraq, the refugee crisis is growing by the day. On Thursday, the group Refugees International warned the situation is so bad Iraq’s refugee crisis could soon overtake the numbers seen in Darfur. The U.N. estimates 100,000 people are fleeing Iraq each month. Refugees International is calling on the U.S. and Britain to lead an international initiative to support Middle Eastern countries hosting some 1.8 million Iraqi refugees. In a statement, Refugees International President Kenneth Bacon said: “The United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, but they are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus.”
Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was laid to rest Thursday at a funeral service at a London mosque. Litvinenko died last month of radiation poisoning. He had been investigating the murder of the Russian journalist and government critic Anna Politkovskaya. Meanwhile, Russian authorities announced a man who met Litvinenko the day he fell ill has also now been hospitalized. The man, Dmitry Kovtun, has reportedly fallen into a coma.
Back in the United States, housing officials have announced they will proceed with the demolition of more than 4,500 low-income government apartments in New Orleans. At a public hearing Thursday, dozens of residents expressed outrage. Katrina evacuees and housing advocates insist the apartments can be repaired at little cost. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to raze the apartments and is working with private investors to build developments that will likely include less units and come at a higher cost. Resident Sharon Pierce Jackson said, “The day you decide to destroy our homes, you will break a lot of hearts. We are people. We are not animals.” Bill Quigley, an attorney for the residents who will be displaced, called the plans “a government-sanctioned diaspora of New Orleans’s poorest African-American citizens.” The hearing was the last in a series of public consultations with local residents. The housing official convening the hearing — federal appointee C. Donald Babers — did not respond to any of the residents’ comments.
On Capitol Hill, outgoing Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter has introduced legislation that would restore legal rights to prisoners in the so-called war on terror. Detainees were stripped of their right to challenge their detentions under October’s Military Commissions Act. In a speech on the Senate floor, Specter said the denial of habeas corpus is illegal because the Constitution only allows its suspension in time of rebellion or invasion.
In California, Hewlett-Packard has agreed to pay $14.5 million to settle charges over its surveillance of journalists and board members in an attempt to discover the source of information leaked to the media. Five Hewlett-Packard officials, including former chair Patricia Dunn, have been indicted on criminal charges. Prosecutors say the settlement will go toward funding investigations into privacy rights and intellectual property violations.
In political news, Republican senator and likely presidential hopeful John McCain has reportedly hired a new campaign manager known for producing controversial attack ads. McCain’s new hiring — Terry Nelson — was behind the infamous “call me” ad that targeted Tennessee Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. during the midterm elections. The ad was widely regarded as racially insensitive.
In environmental news, the Bush administration is considering dropping a health regulation that cuts lead from gasoline. In a draft review released this week, the Environmental Protection Agency says revoking the standards could be justified because lead pollution has declined since the standards were introduced 30 years ago. Lead pollution regulation has long been regarded as one of the nation’s most important clean air achievements.
The number of journalists jailed around the world has reached an all-time high. The Committee to Protect Journalists says a record 134 journalists are currently jailed in 24 countries. The U.S. government has jailed three reporters. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held for eight months in Iraq. Al Jazeera camera operator Sami al-Hajj has spent five years at Guantanamo Bay. And the independent journalist Josh Wolf is in a California prison after refusing a court order to hand over video of a protest in San Francisco.
And federal prosecutors are trying to block an effort by attorneys for Jose Padilla to question Pentagon officials and obtain documents about Padilla’s treatment during his more than three years in prison. The government initially accused Padilla of plotting to set off a dirty bomb inside the United States, but is now holding him on less serious charges. Padilla was held in complete isolation and wasn’t allowed to see an attorney for 21 months. On Thursday, prosecutors asked a judge to prevent Padilla’s lawyers from questioning four military officials, including two who worked at the Navy brig where Padilla was jailed.