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The Washington Post is reporting over 1300 people have been killed in less than a week of violence in Iraq. The death toll is at least four times higher than previously reported, and one of the biggest outside of major US operations since the war began. Violence has increased across the country following Wednesday’s bombing of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra. Earlier today, separate attacks in Baghdad killed at least 36 people and injured dozens more. In the biggest attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Baghdad gas station, killing over 20 people and injuring 50 others.
In other news, a new CBS News poll has found the number of Americans who approve of President Bush’s overall job performance and his handling of the Iraq war has fallen to an all-time low. 34 percent of Americans give the President a favorable job approval rating, while even less — 30 percent — approve of the President’s handling of the Iraq war. Meanwhile, less than a third of Americans believe President Bush has adequately responded to the needs of victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The results come as another new poll has found dwindling support for the Iraq war around the world. A BBC survey of over 40,000 people in 35 different countries found that 60% believe the Iraq war has increased rather than decreased the chances of major terrorist attacks. Only 12% believe the war has made the chances of an attack less likely.
New questions are being raised about the role of the German government in the US invasion of Iraq — an invasion it publicly opposed. The New York Times is reporting German intelligence agents gave the US a copy of Iraq’s plans to defend Baghdad before the invasion. The news comes after last month’s disclosure German intelligence agents in Baghdad helped select at least one bombing target aimed at Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in which twelve civilians were killed.
Back in the United States, a newly-released memo from the US Coast Guard contradicts the Bush administration’s claim a foreign-owned company at the center of a political firestorm over US ports was cleared of links to terrorism. Democrats and Republicans have criticized the Bush administration for allowing Dubai-owned DP World to manage operations at six leading U.S. ports. The Coast Guard memo says: "There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for [DP World]… assets to support terrorist operations, that precludes an overall threat assessment of the potential merger.… The breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities."
In other news, the New York Times is suing Pentagon to release documents about the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spying program. The Times is seeking all internal e-mails and memos about the program, and a list of the names of people and groups involved. The New York Times first disclosed existence of the program in December.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has again rejected calls to appoint a special counsel to investigate the spy program. In a letter released Monday, a group of House Democrats wrote: "If the effort to prevent vigorous and appropriate investigation succeeds, we fear the inexorable conclusion will be that these executive branch agencies hold themselves above the law and accountable to no one." But White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said: "I think that where these Democrats who are calling for this ought to spend their time is on what was the source of the unauthorized disclosure of this vital and critical program in the war on terrorism. I really don’t think there is any basis for a special counsel."
In other news, the government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egpytian man who spent several months in US detention even though he had been cleared of terror charges. Ehab Elmaghraby was one of over 100 Muslim men rounded up and detained after the 9/11 attacks. The settlement is the first the government has made in a series of lawsuits brought by non-US citizens over their unlawful detentions. The judge in the case had recently ruled several top governmental officials, including former Attorney General John Aschroft and Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller, must testify under oath. Government lawyers filed an appeal of that ruling on Friday. Elmaghraby told the New York Times he had only settled the suit to help pay for medical bills for a thyroid ailmnent that had been aggravated by abuse suffered during his detention. His lawyer Alexander Reinert, said: "This is a substantial settlement and shows for the first time that the government can be held accountable for the abuses that have occurred in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and in prisons right here in the United States."
At the United Nations, the Bush administration announced Monday it would oppose a proposal for the creation of a new UN Human Rights council. Supporters including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have touted the proposal as a compromise for the replacement of the UN’s Human Rights Commission. The US has criticized the commission for the human rights records of some of its members. Under the proposed compromise, the commission would be replaced by a smaller council elected by a majority of the General Assembly. But US ambassador John Bolton said the proposal was inadequate, and called for a re-drafting of the text of the resolution. Several diplomats and human rights groups said Bolton’s demands would lead to the weakening of the proposed council.
Bolton’s latest stance comes days after he again made controversial comments about the UN. At an event for the conservative law group the Federalist Society Saturday, Bolton said: "We find an organization that is deeply troubled by bad management, by sex and corruption and by a growing lack of confidence in its ability to carry out missions that are given to them." In 1994, Bolton said "it wouldn’t make a bit of difference" if the UN lost the top 10 stories from its New York headquarters.
In other news, a US District Judge ruled Monday the FBI can hold on to several documents in the case of imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. The judge cited the interest of national security. Peltier’s lawyers had requested the documents as part of their effort to overturn his conviction for the murders of two FBI agents in 1977. Peltier has long maintained his innocence. His supporters have taken legal action to obtain more than 100,000 pages of FBI documents they say should have been made available to his defense.
And a New York theater company is coming under criticism for backing out of an agreement to stage a play based on the life of US peace activist Rachel Corrie. The play’s producers are calling the decision censorship. Corrie was killed in Gaza nearly three years ago when she stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer set to demolish a Palestinian home. The play, entitled My Name is Rachel Corrie, is based on her writings before her death. James Nicola, artistic director of the New York Theater Workshop, said: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation. We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn’t want to take." But Alan Rickman, the acclaimed British actor who directed the play, said: "This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences–all of us are the losers. Rachel Corrie lived in nobody’s pocket but her own. Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard."
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