The International Committee of the Red Cross has announced it is sending a team to investigate conditions at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay following the suicide of three detainees on Saturday. The military reported the men hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes. They are the first reported deaths at Guantanamo. There had been 41 previous suicide attempts as well as widespread hunger strikes. Two of the men were Saudis, one was from Yemen. They had been held at the prison for up to four years and never charged with a crime. One of the men — 21-year-old Yassar Talal al-Zahrani — was first detained when he was a juvenile. One of the other men who committed suicide was due to be released–but did not know it.
New Questions are being raised over the circumstances of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. U.S. military officials initially claimed that Zarqawi died when a U.S. F-16 dropped two 500 pound bombs on his hideout outside of the town of Hibhib. But on Friday the military admitted Zarqawi survived the initial bombing and was semi-conscious when Iraqi and U.S. officials arrived at the scene. The U.S. maintains he died on a stretcher while being treated by U.S. personnel. But an Iraqi police lieutenant told the Los Angeles Times that Zarqawi died after a U.S. soldier repeatedly stepped on his chest, causing blood to flow from his mouth and nose. The officer said U.S. troops removed Zarqawi from an Iraqi ambulance and placed him on the ground. Then a U.S. soldier tried to question Zarqawi and began stepping on his chest. Another Iraqi man who lived nearby told Associated Press Television News that he had witnessed Americans beating Zarqawi. He said “They stomped on his stomach and his chest until he died and blood came out of his nose.” The top American commander in Iraq on Sunday rejected these accounts saying they were “baloney.” General George Casey said, “the idea that there were people there beating him is just ludicrous.” The U.S. military has finished an autopsy on Zarqawi but has not released the findings.
In other news on Iraq, President Bush is planning to meet today at Camp David with top military and civilian advisers today to discuss the future role of the United States in Iraq. This comes as the New York Times reports that the Bush administration is considering keeping at least 50,000 troops in Iraq for years to come, possibly for decades — just as it has in Korea.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers appear to be giving the Pentagon the go-ahead to build permanent military bases in Iraq. Last week lawmakers quietly removed a provision that would have blocked the military from establishing permanent bases in Iraq. Congresswoman Barbara Lee criticized the move. She said “The perception that the U.S. intends to occupy Iraq indefinitely is fueling the insurgency and making our troops more vulnerable.”
The Boston Globe is reporting the amount of money the U.S. is paying out to families of Iraqi civilians killed or injured by U.S. troops is skyrocketing. In 2004, the military paid $5 million. Last year the figure quadrupled to $20 million. The military pays up to $2,500 for each Iraqi killed by the U.S. military.
Fears of an imminent U.S. assault on the Sunni city of Ramadi are increasing. On Saturday U.S. and Iraqi forces cordoned off the city of 400,000 people. The Los Angeles Times reported that fleeing residents say the U.S. has begun bombing residential areas. Thousands of families are reportedly trapped in the city and facing a mounting humanitarian crisis. Food and medical supplies are running low. Prices for gas have soared because of shortages. The Iraqi government has tried repeatedly to send medical and food aid into Ramadi, but it has been thwarted by insurgent attacks. A former governor of the city said that people in Ramadi are caught between two plagues: the vicious, armed insurgents and the American and Iraqi troops.
Eight Palestinian civilians — including three children — died Friday after being apparently hit by shells fired by Israeli gunboats. They died while picnicing on a beach in northern Gaza. One seven-year-old Palestinian girl lost her father, step mother and five siblings. Images were broadcast around the world of the child, Huda Ghalia, wailing near the body of her deceased father. At least 40 people were also injured in the shelling. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning to mark what he called a “bloody massacre.” Abbas met with the seven-year-old orphan and vowed to care for her. Israel has admitted it was firing shells in the area in order to stop Palestinians from staging rocket attacks. But the Israeli military maintains the explosion on the beach may have been caused by Palestinians.
In response to the killings, Hamas announced an end to its 16-month truce and declared the Israeli attack to be a war crime. Over the weekend Hamas fired at least 17 missiles targeting southern Israel. The killings of the Palestinian civilians were widely condemned by the international community.
In Tel Aviv, about 200 Israeli pacifists gathered outside the home of the Israeli Army Chief of Staff and chanted “murderer.” Among the demonstrators was Dana Olmert, the daughter of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Five leading Israeli human rights groups also called on the Israeli military to stop killing Palestinian civilians. The groups estimate that since October 2000, the Israeli military has killed over 1600 Palestinian civilians. In just the past two months, Israel has fired over 6,000 shells into the Gaza Strip. For the Ghalia family, which lost seven members on Friday, this marks the second time it has suffered a major tragedy. Less than two years ago four members of the family died when an Israeli Army shell hit the family farm in northern Gaza.
In other news from the region — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has set a date of July 26 for a vote on whether to establish a Palestinian state and implicitly recognize Israel. Hamas has accused Abbas of pushing the referendum in an attempt to undermine its new government.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered on Friday to attend the funeral of Jamal Abu Samhadana, founder of the Popular Resistance Committees. He was assassinated in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday.
In Afghanistan, U.S. officials are now saying 500 people have died in fighting over the past three weeks. It has been the deadliest period of the war since the fall of the Taliban over four years ago. The Washington Post reports Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to begin giving weapons to local tribesmen to help fight the warlords. But critics of the plan say it could fuel factional fighting.
And a 25-year-old Maryland man will be in court today on charges connected to a plot to bomb an abortion clinic in College Park Maryland. The man Robert Weiler was arrested last week after his own father contacted the FBI. Police said Weiler admitted he was planning the bombing and told investigators that he also intended to “shoot doctors who provided abortions.” Last week police detonated a pipe bomb that Weiler had built at a friend’s house. According to the National Abortion Federation there have been 11 bombings, 25 attempted bombings and 35 arsons at the offices of abortion providers nationwide over the past decade.