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At the White House on Wednesday, President Bush introduced his new Press Secretary, former Fox News commentator Tony Snow. Bush said: “He’s not afraid to express his own opinions. For those of you who have read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me. I asked him about those comments, and he said, 'You should have heard what I said about the other guy.' I like his perspective, I like the perspective he brings to this job, and I think you’re going to like it, too.”
Tony Snow is already coming under scrutiny for a series of controversial comments he’s made on his radio program. Just last week, he shared these views: “People like Jesse Jackson who have committed themselves to a view that blacks are constantly victims, have succeeded in creating in the United States the most dangerous thing that we’ve encountered in our lifetime; which is, an underclass that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.” Tony Snow went on to criticize what he described as: “the idiotic culture of hip-hop”: “You have people glorifying failure. You have a bunch of gold-toothed hot dogs become millionaires by running around and telling everybody else that they oughtta be miserable failures and if they’re really lucky maybe they can get gunned down in a diner sometime, like Eminem’s old running mate.”
In northeastern Sri Lanka, thousands of people have been left homeless following military strikes on suspected Tamil Tiger positions. Local authorities said more than 40,000 people have been displaced. The strikes have killed at least 15 people, with many more believed to be trapped beneath the bombed-out rubble. The bombings come after a suicide bombing on an army motorcade that killed eight people Tuesday. A top military official was among those wounded in the attack. The Tamil Tigers have denied responsibility for that bombing.
In Europe, an EU commission has concluded the CIA has operated more than 1,000 clandestine flights over Europe in the past five years. Analysts said that figure is considerably higher than previously thought. The commission also concluded that incidents where detainees were handed over to US agents were not isolated cases. In many instances, the suspects were ferried around Europe on the same planes used by a small group of the same agents.
In Iraq, the new Sunni Vice President has lost a sibling for the second time in as many weeks. Earlier today, Mayson Ahmed Bakir Hashimi, whose brother, Tariq Hashimi was appointed last weekend, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad. The attack comes just two weeks after their brother, Mahmoud Hashimi, was killed in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, three Italian troops and a Romanian soldier were killed today in a roadside car bombing. The attack occurred in the city of Nasiriya, where the Italian contingent is based. Italy has already pledged to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of this year.
This news on Iran — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Wednesday his country would strike U.S. targets around the world in the event of a US-led attack. Khamenei said: “If the U.S. ventured into any aggression on Iran, Iran will retaliate by damaging U.S. interests worldwide twice as much as the U.S. may inflict on Iran.”
In Egypt, the Cairo bureau chief of the al-Jazeera television network has been arrested. Egyptian authorities said Hussein Abdel Ghani had reported false information about this week’s suicide bombing in Dahab. In a statement released by his network, Abdel Ghani said he was the victim of “a complete police kidnapping operation beyond the law.”
Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting FEMA is reducing or eliminating housing assistance for 55,000 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. One-third of this total have been told they no longer qualify for housing vouchers and must now pay their own rent or leave. The rest will be forced to sign new leases, pay their own utility bills and re-apply for housing assistance every three months.
Meanwhile, a bi-partisan senate committee has called for abolishing FEMA. In a report that is to be released today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee says FEMA’s performance during the Hurricane Katrina crisis was so poor that the agency is “beyond repair.”
In other news, a coalition of human rights groups has released what they say is the first comprehensive list of abuses of detainees in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanano Bay. The effort, named the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, says abuse has been widespread and that the US government has taken few steps to investigate implicated high-ranking personnel. According to the report only half of more than 330 claims of detainee abuse and torture have been adequately investigated. And only 40 of over 600 US personnel implicated in these cases have been sentenced to prison time. “This data should silence once and for all the assertion that the prisoner abuse problem is some isolated phenomenon limited to a few sadistic soldiers on the night shift at Abu Ghraib,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “Two years after those photographs became public we now know that the conduct depicted in them was wide spread, spanning two theaters of war and involving hundreds of military and civilian personnel. This can no longer be reasonably disputed. Second, this data confirms that the abuses that occurred are serious violations of the law. Our data shows over a thousand separate criminal acts, including beating, sexual assaults and 34 homicides, eight of those appear to be people who were literally tortured to death. Third, and perhaps most important for the future strength and discipline of the military, our findings reveal a picture of military discipline which from which the doctrine of command responsibility is completely absent.
In other news, an Iraqi-born actor who appears in a new film about the 9/11 attacks has been denied entry into the US for the film’s premiere. Lewis Alsamari, who stars as the lead hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93 in the film “United 93”, says he believes his denial was based on his nationality.
In Washington, senior White House aide Karl Rove testified Wednesday before the grand jury investigating the CIA leak case. It was the fifth time Rove has been called to appear.