The US military is being accused of committing a new massacre of Iraqi civilians. On Tuesday, witnesses, family members and a Sunni parliamentarian said US troops killed a group of civilians near the town of Baquba. An Iraqi human rights worker said two of the dead were young boys aged ten and twelve. In a statement, the US military claimed it killed 15 “terrorists” and had captured their weapons. But an Iraqi police officer told the Washington Post no weapons were found at the scene of the attack.
In other Iraq news, the US military has ordered an inquiry into why two soldiers were left on their own before they were later kidnapped and slain. The soldiers — Private Kristian Menchaca and Private Thomas Tucker — were found with visible signs of torture. The military is already coming under criticism from one of the soldiers’ relatives.
On Tuesday, Ken MacKenzie — the uncle of Private Menchaca — told NBC’s Today Show the US military had been too slow to react to the kidnappings. Mackenzie said: “Because the U.S. government did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid for it with his life.”
And finally in Iraq, one of Saddam Hussein’s top defense lawyers has been killed. Khamis al-Obaidi is the third member of Saddam Hussein’s defense team to be slain since his war crimes trial began in October. He was killed after being abducted by men wearing police uniforms.
In the Gaza Strip, another Israeli air strike has claimed the lives of Palestinian children. The dead were identified as five-year old Mohammed Roka, his sister Nadia and sixteen year-old Bilal al-Hassa.
Fourteen people — including seven children — were wounded in Tuesday’s attack. Three of the children were listed in grave condition. Israel says it was targeting two militants with the Palestinian group the al-Aqsa Brigades. Following the attacks, the group called for a renewal of strikes inside Israel. Israeli air strikes on Gaza have now killed up to 22 civilians in the past month.
Meanwhile, the Israeli network Channel Two is reporting new developments that bolster accusations the Israeli military was responsible for the recent Gaza beach bombing that killed eight people. Sources inside the Israeli hospital that treated some of the victims said they removed shrapnel used in Israeli shells, and not by Palestinian militants. The claims back the analysis of a Human Rights Watch military expert who investigated the scene of the bombing. The Israeli army maintains the blast was likely caused by bombs planted by Palestinian militants.
North Korea is calling for direct talks with the US over its reported plan to test-fire a long-range missile. The US has insisted it will negotiate only through six-nation talks. US Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow spoke in Seoul on Tuesday.
On the domestic front, Suskind’s book also discloses that a major US financial company provided the FBI and CIA information on the financial transactions and wire transfers of consumers world-wide. The company, First Data Corporation, is the parent firm of Western Union. First Data becomes the latest major US corporation to be linked with US government spying. Last month, USA Today revealed the National Security Agency has secretly collected the phone call records of millions of Americans with the help of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.
In other domestic spy news, the Associated Press is reporting law enforcement agencies have employed private-sector brokers to collect the personal telephone records of scores of Americans. Officials interviewed by the AP said the brokers were employed because they could bypass civil liberties safeguards such as subpoenas and warrants. The brokers’ methods included hacking into customers’ online accounts and even impersonating them to get phone companies to reveal their private information. The government spent at least $30 million dollars last year on the brokers’ activities. Some agencies stopped using the brokers after coming under congressional scrutiny. A lawyer representing four data brokers defended his clients by comparing their work to the spying activities of the National Security Agency. The lawyer, James Bearden, said: “The government is doing exactly what these people are accused of doing… These are people who are partners with law enforcement on a regular basis.”
In North Dakota, a Catholic priest and two military veterans were arrested Tuesday for infiltrating a missile silo site. The men were able to break the locks on the site using sledgehammers and hammers. They painted the word “disarm” on a silo lid and poured some of their own blood. The men call themselves “Weapon of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares.” In a statement posted on their website JonahHouse.org, then men said: “We have chosen to start the process of transformation and disarmament by hammering on and pouring our blood on components of the Minuteman Three nuclear missile system. We believe that the concrete that goes into making missile silos would be better used for building homes.”
In New Orleans, the New York Times is reporting the city is experiencing what it calls “a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. According to local officials, the city’s suicide rate has nearly tripled since the storm devastated the city ten months ago. The rise has been accompanied by a severe collapse in the local mental health system. State officials estimate New Orleans has now lost more than half its psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals.
On Capitol Hill, Republican House leaders have announced they will postpone final negotiations on immigration reform until after the summer. Instead, the Republicans plan to hold several “public forums” on immigration in cities around the country during the month of August. Analysts say the announcement likely means Congress will be unable to pass an immigration reform bill before November’s mid-term elections.
In Washington, DC, former Bush administration official David Safavian was found guilty Tuesday on four counts of making false statements and obstructing an investigation into the activities of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Safavian served as the Bush administration’s chief procurement official. He will be sentenced in October.
In environmental news, a new report says twenty-eight US states have more than doubled their carbon dioxide emissions since 1960. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, increased oil consumption accounted for forty percent of the total increase.
In pharmaceutical news, consumer advocate groups are reporting prices for the most widely-used prescription drugs have seen dramatic increases this year. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, prices for brand-named pharmaceuticals increased by just under four percent — four times the inflation rate. It was largest quarterly price hike on prescription drugs in six years.
In media news, Dan Rather has left CBS after more than four decades. Rather stepped down as CBS News anchor last year following controversy over his infamous report on President Bush’s military record. On Tuesday, Rather said he was leaving after CBS offered him “a future with only an office but no assignments.” Rather added: “Too much is made of anchors and their personalities… The larger issues — the role of a free press and of honest, real news in a democracy, the role of technology in supporting a free press, the 'corporatization' of news and its effects on news content — all deserve more attention, more discussion and more passionate debate.”
And finally, President Bush is in Austria today for a summit with European leaders. The US-EU talks are expected to focus on a host of issues including Iran, trade, and immigration. European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the EU would press demands for the US to close its prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Barroso said that the threat posed to civil liberties by the so-called war on terror means: “We risk losing our souls.”