The Bush administration and leading Republicans are lashing out at the New York Times and other media outlets for their reports on the government’s secret monitoring of international bank transactions without court-approval.
Meanwhile, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling for the prosecution of all New York Times staff members who were involved in exposing the financial spying. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, New York Republican Congressmember Peter King said the New York Times should be prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act.
Critics meanwhile say the financial spying echoes the Bush administration’s wiretapping of Americans without court warrants.
In Iraq, an insurgent group has released video footage showing the killing of three kidnapped Russian embassy workers. Two of the hostages are beheaded in the video while a third is shot. A fourth Russian hostage is also believed to have been killed. The workers were abducted in Baghdad earlier this month.
An investigation carried out by the Los Angeles Times has concluded at 50,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the Iraq war. The number is equivalent to the killing of some 570,000 Americans over the same period. Other studies have put the toll at far higher. In 2004, a John Hopkins study published in the British medical journal the Lancet estimated the Iraqi civilian death toll at over 100,000. That number was considered conservative because it excluded the toll in Fallujah — one of the hardest hit cities of the invasion. The Los Angeles Times’ estimate was based on statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies. Their figure is at least 20,000 more than the Bush administration has publicly acknowledged.
Meanwhile, the US military has announced 350 innocent Iraqis were killed at US checkpoints last year — an average of at least six killings per week. A senior intelligence official told Reuters that out of a total 4,000 incidents in which US troops responded to a perceived threat — less than two percent were later found to have posed an actual threat.
In other Iraq news, two National Guard members have been charged in connection with the February shooting of an unarmed Iraqi near the town of Ramadi. The guard members are currently being held in Baghdad where they will face pre-trial hearings.
And also in Iraq, the government has announced an offer to grant amnesty to insurgent groups. The amnesty would not apply to those who have killed Iraqis or US troops. The proposal is part of a national reconciliation plan drafted with close consultation with US political and military leaders. Despite prior speculation, the plan does not include a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
In Israel, the government is promising a harsh response to a Palestinian incursion that killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. The militants spent weeks digging a tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israel before launching the attack. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called the raid a response to recent Israeli strikes that have killed Palestinian civilians and leaders in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Hamas operation, saying it would lead to further Israeli attacks. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he holds Abbas directly responsible.
In East Timor, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri announced today he is ready to step down. Alkatiri has been blamed for weeks of unrest following his decision to dismiss hundreds of troops from the military. Alkatiri said he is resigning to avoid the departure of President Xanana Gusmao. Gusmao had threatened to quit unless Alkatiri left office.
In Sri Lanka, a suicide bombing killed a top military general and three others earlier today. The government immediately blamed the rebel Tamil Tigers. The slain general was Sri Lanka’s third-highest ranking military officer.
In Somalia, a Swedish video journalist was killed Friday while covering a rally in Mogadishu. The journalist, Martin Adler, had won awards for his work in countries including Iraq and China. His death marked at least the tenth slaying of a foreign journalist in Somalia in the last fifteen years. The Islamic Courts Union, which now controls Mogadishu, blamed the killing on an opposition warlord.
In Pakistan, media and human rights groups are calling for an independent inquiry into the abduction and killing of journalist Hayatullah Khan. Khan’s body was discovered earlier this month, six months after he was abducted in Waziristan. He was found handcuffed and with gunshot wounds in his back. Khan’s family has blamed Pakistan’s intelligence service for his disappearance. In December, Khan unearthed evidence that a wanted militant had been killed by a CIA missile — contradicting the government’s claim the militant accidentally blew himself up with explosives. Khan was kidnapped shortly after he published his findings.
In other news, the Sudanese government has suspended the United Nations mission in Darfur. The suspension will apply to all UN agencies except UNICEF and the World Food Programme. The Sudanese government says it acted after learning a UN helicopter had transported a Darfurian rebel leader who rejects a recently signed peace agreement.
Back in the United States, an FBI official announced Friday that the alleged plot by seven Miami terror suspects was: “more aspirational than operational,” and posed “no immediate threat.” The suspects were apprehended last week without any weapons or explosives. The government maintains they were planning to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings around the country
Meanwhile, the e-mails also reveal Norquist was able to arrange a newly disclosed meeting between President Bush and Abramoff’s tribal clients in 2002. Previous documents have already shown Bush met an Abramoff client the year before. In the newly disclosed e-mail, Norquist asks Abramoff if his clients could contribute $100,000 to fund a Washington trip of state legislators and tribal leaders who had passed resolutions backed by the White House. Norquist wrote: “When I have funding, I will ask Karl Rove for a date with the president. Karl has already said 'yes' in principle and knows you organized this last time and hope to this year.” Norquist delivered on his promise. Abramoff’s clients met President Bush for the second time; and the clients subsequently donated to Norquist’s ATR.
In Denver, one person was killed and another five were wounded Sunday when a Safeway employee opened fire inside a company warehouse. The assailant was later killed in a shootout with police.
And investment mogul Warren Buffet has announced what is believed to be the largest charitable donation in U.S. history. Buffet says he will give 85% of his estimated $44 billion fortune. $31 billion will go to the Gates foundation — the charity run by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. However, there is uncertainty over whether the donation will reach the announced total. The money will be given to the Gates Foundation in small annual sums, and will require the active involvement of at least one of the Gateses in order to continue.
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