A newly released Pentagon study reveals that U.S. forces held Iraqi detainees for up to seven days at a time in cells so tiny that they could neither stand nor lie down. The cells measured four feet high, four feet long and twenty inches wide. One Iraqi detainee alleged his captors duct-taped his mouth and nose before placing him in the box-like cell. The Pentagon investigation also determined some Iraqi detainees were fed only bread and water for up to seventeen days during which time they were chained to the floor of their cells. Other Iraqis were stripped naked, deprived of sleep and assailed with loud music. The Pentagon report was completed in November 2004 but only made public last week in response to a Freedom of Information request from the American Civil Liberties Union. The report’s author, Army Brigadier General Richard Formica, determined the troops used unauthorized interrogation methods that violated the Geneva Conventions. But he recommended that no U.S. troops be disciplined for abusing Iraqis.
In other news from Iraq, the U.S. military is searching for two soldiers who have been missing since Saturday. Iraq’s Foreign Minister told CNN that the soldiers were seized by a group of insurgents. The soldiers were identified as Kristian Menchaca, of Houston, Texas and Thomas Tucker of Madras Oregon. They are the first U.S. soldiers to have been reported missing in action in Iraq in two years.
In Baghdad, 43 people died on Saturday in a series of seven bombings. On Friday, 11 people were killed when a suicide bomber exploded a shoe bomb inside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad.
Meanwhile thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops have completely surrounded the Sunni city of Ramadi. New checkpoints were established on Saturday. The United Nations is reporting that nearly ten thousand residents of Ramadi have already fled the city fearing a Fallujah-like assault.
In Washington, the House of Representatives has voted to reject setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The vote was 256 to 153. The Republican leadership accused dissenting Democrats of failing to support the troops. But Congressman John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, slammed the Republican tactics.
An internal memo from the US embassy in Baghdad leaked to the Washington Post reveals that the situation in the Iraqi capital is far more dire than portrayed by the Bush administration. The memo mentions that one Arab newspaper editor is preparing an extensive study of how ethnic cleansing is now occurring in almost every Iraqi province. One Iraqi employee of the embassy said that he attends a funeral every evening. Neighborhoods in Baghdad are now mostly controlled by militias. Islamic groups are enforcing strict social codes. Women are increasingly being pressured to cover their faces. It is also now considered dangerous for men and children to wear shorts outside. Iraqis working in the U.S. embassy must now keep their place of work a secret even from their own family because anti-American sentiment is so high. For the past six months the embassy has been unable to call Iraqi workers at home or use them as translators for on-camera press events for their own safety. The memo from the U.S. embassy was sent to Washington last week ahead of President Bush’s visit to Baghdad.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has launched its largest offensive since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. More than ten thousand troops are spreading out over four southern provinces to fight the Taliban. Over the past month more than five hundred people have died in Afghanistan in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. Meanwhile the Washington Post is reporting the U.S. military has carried out 340 air strikes in Afghanistan over the past three months. That’s more than double the number of air strikes conducted in Iraq during the same period.
The New York Times is reporting that North Korea may have completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile. Unnamed American officials told the paper that this greatly increases the probability that North Korea will conduct its first test launching in eight years. Japan is warning it will take severe action if North Korea launches a long-range missile.
In New Orleans, public housing advocates are protesting the federal government’s decision to eliminate five thousand units of public housing. NAACP Civil Rights Attorney Tracie Washington has announced plans to sue the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And activists with the group United Front for Affordable Housing has vowed to use any means necessary to stop the bulldozing of their apartments. If the federal government’s plan goes forward, New Orleans will have lost 85 percent of its public housing over the past decade. The development has been welcomed by some. Shortly after Katrina devastated the city, Republican Congressman Richard Baker from Baton Rouge reportedly said “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
In religious news, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada has been elected to head the Episcopal Church becoming the first woman to ever lead a church in the world Anglican Communion. Her election comes at a time when many Anglican churches still don’t acknowledge that women can become priests. Bishop Schori is a former oceanographer who became a priest a decade ago.
In news from Capitol Hill, the House has voted to remove Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana from the Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson is under federal investigation for bribery but he has not yet been charged with a crime. The Congressional Black Caucus opposed the move. It is believed that the House has never taken such a harsh step against a member not charged with a crime. Last month the FBI raided Jefferson’s Congressional office touching off a constitutional debate over the powers of the executive body to seize evidence from lawmakers.
The state of New Jersey has subpoenaed records from five major telephone companies in an effort to determine whether they broke the state’s consumer protection laws by providing records to the National Security Agency. The companies subpoenaed are: AT&T, Verizon, Qwest, Sprint Nextel and Cingular Wireless. Now the Bush administration is attempting to block New Jersey’s investigation. Last week the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to halt the subpoenas.
In news from Britain — the Observer newspaper reports the British government has been secretly awarding honors to senior U.S. military and business leaders connected to the Iraq invasion. The list includes Riley Bechtel, the head of the U.S. company Bechtel; General Tommy Franks and Vice Admiral Timothy Keating.
In New York, over 200 people demonstrated at Ground Zero on Saturday to protest the government’s failure to respond to the health effects of 9/11. Among the protesters was Joseph Zadroga. His son, New York police detective, James Zadroga died at the age of thirty-four in January from heart and lung complications directly related to the 9/11 incident.
In labor news, janitors and groundskeepers at the University of Miami in Florida have voted to unionize and join the Service Employees International Union. Earlier this year the janitors staged a nine-week strike against UNICCO, the Boston-based company contracted to provide janitors for the private university.
And in Bangkok, dozens of Bumese exiles, Thai activists and Buddhist monks gathered earlier today to mark the sixty-first birthday of imprisoned Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent 10 of the past 16 years in jail. This is San San, an exiled member of the National League For Democracy.