In Iraq, three members of the Christian Peacemakers Team have been freed after being held as hostages for almost four months. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the men had been rescued earlier today. The exact circumstances of their release remains unclear. According to a statement from the Christian Peacemaker Teams, no one was hurt in the rescue. The rescued men are Norman Kember of Britain, and James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, both of Canada. Across the globe, families and friends of the men have been rejoicing. The men were seized in Baghdad last November along with the U.S. peace activist Tom Fox whose body was found in Baghdad two weeks ago. He had been shot and his body was dumped on a Baghdad street. The peace activists are all members of the humanitarian group The Christian Peacemaker Teams which has been documenting the abuse of Iraqi detainees and working with the families of prisoners. The CPT were the first to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S. forces, long before the media revealed what was happening at Abu Ghraib.
An Army dog handler has been sentenced to six months in prison for abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. The sergeant, Michael Smith, was photographed using un-muzzled dogs to terrify detainees. He could have been sentenced to eight and a half years in prison but he was given a far shorter sentence. Smith is the 10th low-ranking soldier convicted of taking part in the widespread abuse at Abu Ghraib. To date no high-ranking officer or anyone in civilian command has been held accountable for what happened at the prison.
In labor news, cut backs in the auto industry are continuing. General Motors has announced plans to offer early retirement buyouts to all of its 113,000 unionized workers here in the United States. The plan–which has the backing of the United Auto Workers–will also affect workers at the auto supplier Delphi. General Motors is trying to eliminate 30,000 hourly jobs by 2008.
In Gaza, the Guardian newspaper is reporting widespread bread rationing has been introduced because of a severe food shortage. Israel has cut off deliveries of flour and other essential items for most of the past two months. One UN official said food ration coupons are needed because stores lack flour, sugar, oil, milk and other basic items. It is estimated that two thirds of the bakeries and many restaurants in Gaza have been forced to close.
In Bolivia, an American man has been arrested along with an Uruguayan woman for bombing two hotels in La Paz. Two people died and at least seven were injured in the blasts. The attacks were denounced by the Bolivian government. President Evo Morales said “This American was putting bombs in hotels. The U.S. government fights terrorism, and they send us terrorists.” Police initially identified the American as 24-year-old Claudio Lestad of New Orleans but he reportedly used several other names. Police said the he might be mentally ill.
In environmental news–the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a fake watchdog group, largely subsidized by ExxonMobil, was responsible for getting the IRS to audit the environmental organization Greenpeace. Two years ago the little known Public Interest Watch challenged Greenpeace’s tax exempt status and accused the group of money laundering and other crimes. According to the Journal, tax records show ExxonMobil provided more than 95 percent of the funding of Public Interest Watch. John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA said “I believe organizations should be scrutinized and audited, but I just don’t believe you should get targeted because you’re a critic of Exxon Mobil.”
In news from the Middle East, military analyst William Arkin has revealed the Pentagon has developed a ten-year plan to store munitions and equipment in at least six countries in the Middle East and Central Asia in order to be prepared for future military conflicts. The countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman as well as a classified Middle Eastern country west of Saudi Arabia. According to Arkin, the military will use the sites to store everything from missiles to pre-packaged ready to eat meals.
Meanwhile in South Korea, a group of activists and farmers are planning four days of demonstrations outside the U.S. military base Camp Humpreys. The South Korean government has taken legal control over 2,000 acres of nearby farmland to enable the U.S. to triple the size of its base. Many local farmers are refusing to abandon their homes and land.
In Washington the Supreme Court has rejected an effort to give residents of Puerto Rico the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections. “No territory of the United States has ever been able to participate in the presidential elections of the United States of America,” Puerto Rican political analyst Juan Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua. “That fact only serves to underscore that Puerto Rico is now in the thinking of the United States Supreme Court a miserable colony of the United States.”
In news on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, officials in New Orleans are warning that the city remains without any emergency hurricane shelters — even though the hurricane season begins in about two months.
A new study estimates as many as a half million Katrina evacuees might need mental health counseling to deal with stress-related issues.
In medical news, the Los Angeles Times reports one of the first independent studies of the new Medicare prescription benefit law has concluded that many low-income California seniors have access to a narrower range of drugs than when the state covered their medications.
In Tennessee, the capitol building in Nashville was forced to close its doors to visitors after several hundred protesters, many of them in wheelchairs, blockaded nearby streets. Nearly 100 of the protesters were arrested during what was the second day of demonstrations organized by the group Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs, or ADAPT. ADAPT is opposing recent cuts to healthcare funding in the state that disenrolled 330,000 residents from the state’s health insurance program. This is Babs Johnson, a longtime member of ADAPT, speaking by cell phone from the midst of a protest on Tuesday: “”Right now ADAPT has shut down Charlotte Avenue in front of the capital here in Tennessee because of the unjust and immoral incarceration of people with disabilities in Nursing homes. The state spends 160 dollars on institutional placement for every dollar that goes into community services, and we want to change that.”
In Nepal, police have raided the home of one of the country’s top opposition leaders — Madhav Kumar Nepal the head of the Communist Party of Nepal. Armed police raided his house without a warrant and seized his telephone, computer and fax machine. Mr. Nepal has been under house arrest for the past two months and had already had his phone disconnected. Nepal has been a key organizer of the nationwide protests against Nepal’s King Gyanendra who seized complete control of the government last year.
And in Peru, the head of the rebel group MRTA or the Revolutionary Movement Tupac Amaru has been sentenced to 32 years in jail. The man, Victor Polay Campos, has been in jail since 1992. A military court originally sentenced him to life in prison but the conviction was later ruled unconstitutional.
In New York, the police response to the Republican National Convention protests is continuing to come under criticism. For the first time a high-ranking police supervisor has admitted that police arrested about 400 people around Union Square even though the police never gave an order to disperse. The disclosure was made in a deposition made by Deputy Inspector James Essig. On Wednesday the New York Civil Liberties Union accused the police of lying about the circumstances surrounding the arrests of hundreds of protesters during the Republican National Convention.