President Bush has indicated US troops are likely to stay in Iraq until at least 2009. Speaking at a White House press conference Tuesday — his second this year — Bush said whether US troops are withdrawn from Iraq will be up to future US presidents and Iraqi governments to decide. Bush also defended the job performance of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld amid growing calls for his resignation. But Bush left open the possibility for future changes, saying “I’m not going to announce it right now.”
At the United Nations, a top diplomat is warning international efforts are failing to quell increasing violence in Sudan’s south and western Darfur region. UN Special Representative to the Sudan Jan Pronk: “The ceasefire agreement is violated day after day. Both parties know that these violations will be noted down but neither discussed nor addressed let alone sanctioned. The ceasefire does not function, the joint committee does not meet. The sanctions foreseen with the Security Council panel of experts exist only in theory.”
In Spain, the Basque separatist group ETA has announced a ceasefire to begin this week. A Basque media report said the ceasfire is to be “permanent.” The ceasfire would bring an end to nearly four decades of violent struggle since 1968.
In Chile, a judge has issued arrest warrants for 13 former army officials accused of executing political opponents during the first months of the rule General Augusto Pinochet. Over 75 dissidents were killed in the weeks immediately after the coup in an operation known as the “Caravan of Death.” A dozen other former officers have already been charged for taking part in the operation. One of the new suspects, Carlos Minoletti Arriagada, currently lives in the United States.
In Ecuador, a state of emergency has been declared in five provinces that have been hotbeds of protest against trade talks with the US. Thousands of indigenous Ecuadorians have taken part n blockades and protests that have shut down commercial activity in several parts of the country. Under the new emergency measures, public gatherings will be barred and curfews will be imposed. Ecuadorian officials will be in Washington for trade talks Thursday for talks on a so-called “free trade” agreement. In an interview with the Latin American television network Telesur, protest leader Luis Macas said: “We want the government to act with prudence … What is more important, selling our country or holding on to our sovereignty?”
In Israel, Baruch Marzel, a parliamentary candidate in the upcoming elections has called for the assassination of well-known Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery. Marzel, who leads the National Jewish Front, said Israeli Defense Forces should target Uri Avnery, who leads the peace group Gush Shalom. Marzel’s comments came after Avnery compared a Palestinian group’s assassination of a former Israeli cabinet minister to Israel’s policy of killing militant Palestinian leaders.
Back in the United States, a US soldier has been found guilty of using a dog to abuse detainees at Abu Ghraib. Sgt. Michael Smith was convicted on 6 counts including maltreating detainees, dereliction of duty and assault. He is the 10th soldier to be convicted in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Smith’s defense argued he was only following orders, and his alleged use of the dog was in line with why his superiors ordered the use of dogs at Abu Ghraib.
NBC News has revealed a top government official under Saddam Hussein acted as a paid informant to the CIA before the US invaded Iraq. According to intelligence sources, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri gave information that contradicted two of the main stated reasons for going to war. Sabri said Saddam Hussein possessed no active biological or nuclear weapons programs. He also reportedly claimed Iraq had a cache of chemical weapons — an assertion that turned out to be false. Sabri was reportedly paid more than $100,000 dollars for his information, which was delivered through a third party.
In other news, the New York Times is reporting a Pentagon inquiry has cleared military contractor the Lincoln Group of wrongdoing over its planting of pro-US military stories in Iraqi newspapers. The inquiry was ordered after the Lincoln Group’s activities were disclosed last November. Pentagon officials said the company remains under contract, and would continue its activities unless the military revises its policies.
The Washington Post is reporting the Bush administration has funneled millions of dollars in federal grant money to conservative groups that support its social policies. Using faith-based programs and other government initiatives, the Bush administration has steered at least $157 million to groups that support the President’s views on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. According to the Post, most of the funding came through government programs enacted after the Bush administration took office. In scores of cases, small antiabortion centers have received federal funding that doubled or tripled their operating budgets. Democratic Congressmember Chet Edwards of Texas called the grant funding one of the largest patronage programs in American history.
In Virginia Tuesday, the FBI was handed further embarrassment at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The supervisor of the agency’s international terrorism division testified he had not read a memo delivered in August 2001 that recommended an investigation of Moussaoui as a possible hijacker. The testimony of Michael Rolince, now retired, came after Monday’s testimony from FBI agent Greg Samit that he spent four weeks trying to convince his superiors Moussaoui posed a security risk. According to Samit, FBI officials ignored his warnings.
And in Illinois, Tammy Duckworth is holding on to a slim lead in a widely-watched Democratic primary in the state’s 6th District. Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq, is leading with 43 percent of the vote. Duckworth is one of a number anti-war Iraq veterans making a run for Congress this year.
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