The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Pentagon has decided to make it official policy to ignore a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans “humiliating and degrading treatment” of detainees. According to the paper, the Pentagon’s new Army Field Manual on interrogation marks a further and potentially permanent shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards. For decades, it had been the official policy of the U.S. military to follow the minimum standards for treating all detainees as laid out in the Geneva Convention. But, in 2002, Bush suspended portions of the Geneva Convention for accused members of Al Qaeda and Taliban. Critics said the Pentagon’s latest decision would violate a broadly supported anti-torture measure advanced by Sen. John McCain to ban torture and cruel treatment. The Los Angeles Times reports the move to officially ignore parts of the Geneva Convention was supported by Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and by the Pentagon’s intelligence arm. Sources said Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and Stephen Cambone, the Defense undersecretary for intelligence, claimed the Geneva Conventions restrict the United States’ ability to question detainees.
The Pentagon’s decision to officially ignore parts of the Geneva Conventions comes at a time that the military’s actions in Iraq are coming under increasing scrutiny. Over the weekend, top officials in Iraq demanded the U.S. do more to investigate two different alleged massacres at the hands of U.S. troops: the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha last November and the killing of 13 in the town of Ishaqi outside of Balad in March. On Saturday Major General William Caldwell announced that the Pentagon had cleared U.S. troops of any wrongdoing in the killings in Ishaqi.
However the Iraqi government has rejected the Pentagon’s findings. On Saturday an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that the Iraqi government would open its own investigation into the deaths of Iraq civilians in Ishaqi. The Iraqi Human Rights Minister said a commission would be sent to the town to investigate the deaths in the next few days. Relatives of the Iraqi family killed in Ishaqi accused the U.S. of slaughtering innocent civilians.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has defended the training and conduct of U.S. troops and said incidents such as the massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha are anomalies.
However the wife of one of the staff sergeants involved in the Haditha killings has told Newsweek that there was a total breakdown in discipline including drug and alcohol abuse within the Marine unit. She said “I think it’s more than possible that these guys were totally tweaked out on speed or something when they shot those civilians in Haditha.”
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that government records show that more Baghdad residents died in shootings, stabbings and other violence in May than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Just under 1,400 bodies were brought to the city’s central morgue during the month The actual number of people killed in Baghdad was even higher because the count doesn’t include soldiers or civilian victims of explosions.
This past weekend saw another surge in violent killings. North of Baghdad, masked gun assassinated 21 students — reportedly all Shiites — who were stopped at a fake checkpoint. In Basra, a suicide car bomber killed 32 people and wounded 77 — the attack came just days after the Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in the southern city. In Baghdad, officials discovered 22 bodies that had been burned, blindfolded, handcuffed and thrown into a river. Earlier today, gunmen wearing police uniforms raided bus stations in central Baghdad, abducting at least 50 people.
Meanwhile the new Iraqi government has failed once again in agreeing to who will head key security ministries.
Iraqi man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of aid worker Margaret Hassan.
In Peru, Alan Garcia has defeated Ollanta Humala to become Peru’s next president. Garcia, who served as president from 1985 to 1990, won about 55 percent of the vote. In 1990 Garcia left office in disgrace with Peru nearly bankrupt. His administration was widely accused of corruption. On Sunday. Garcia claimed his victory was a blow to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who had publicly supported Humala’s candidacy.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has introduced a sweeping new land reform program to give farmland to poor, indigenous communities. On Saturday, he handed over 10,000 square miles of state-owned property. More land, including unused private property, is expected to be turned over as part of what Morales called an “agrarian revolution.” Morales has defended the plan despite protests from the business community
In Canada, 12 men and five youths have been rounded up in what has been described as one of the largest anti-terrorism operations ever undertaken in North America. More than 400 police officers took part in a series of raids on Saturday. The men have been accused of planning to carry out attacks in southern Ontario with bombs made from the fertilizer ammonium nitrate. It is unclear how much of the plot was actually a government sting operation. According to the Toronto Star, it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police itself that delivered three tons of the potential bomb-making material to the group. Once the material was delivered, officials moved in and made the arrests.
A major United Nations conference on AIDS called on the international community to raise as much as $23 billion a year in order to be able to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment and care by 2010. The summit’s final declaration called on countries to commit to a wide range of prevention strategies, including abstinence, fidelity, condom use, and clean needles. While the United Nations declared the summit a success, a group of AIDS groups criticized the international body for not doing enough. The group Actionaid International said in a statement, “We are furious. Vulnerable groups such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men have been made invisible in this document.”
Meanwhile it was 25 years ago today, June 5th 1981, when a California doctor named Michael Gottlieb published a brief report about the first diagnosis of the HIV virus. Since then 25 million people have died of AIDS. An average of 8,000 continue to die each day.
There has been a major development in the case of Wen Ho Lee — the U.S. nuclear scientist of Chinese descent who was falsely accused by the Clinton administration of spying for the Chinese government. The government has agreed to pay Lee nearly $900,000 for violating his right to privacy by leaking information to the press. In addition, five major news outlets have agreed to pay Lee $750,000 to settle a lawsuit in order to avoid identifying who within the government leaked information that falsely implicated Lee. When the Wen Ho Lee case first broke the press used anonymous sources to portray the case as one of the most serious spy scandals in U.S. history. In April 1999, the New York Times opened an article about Lee like this: “A scientist suspected of spying for China improperly transferred huge amounts of secret data from a computer system at a Government laboratory, compromising virtually every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal, Government and lab officials say.” Eight months later he was indicted on 59 counts — but none of them were for spying. He was held in solitary confinement and threatened with execution but within a year the government dropped 58 of the 59 charges. After Wen Ho Lee had endured 278 days of solitary confinement, a federal judge named James Parker released him from prison, and in an unusual statement from the bench, he rebuked the government and apologized to him.
In news from Washington, President Bush is urging Congress to approve a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The move comes nearly six months before the mid-term elections. On Saturday Bush dedicated his entire weekly radio address to the issue; he never mentioned the war in Iraq once. The Senate is expected to begin debate on same-sex marriage this week. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently argued that banning gay marriage and flag burning are two of the nation’s most pressing priorities.
Simultaneous protests were held on Saturday in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and the Palestinian city of Ramallah calling for an end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began 39 years ago. In Ramallah demonstrators called for an end to the blockade on the Palestinian people. The Tel Aviv protest was organized by a series of Jewish peace and student groups.
In media news, the leading journalist union in Britain and Ireland has called on its 40,000 members to boycott the Internet company Yahoo. The union criticized the company for helping the Chinese government identify and prosecute pro-democracy journalists and dissidents. The union said it would stop using all Yahoo-operated services including the popular search engine.
The American Bar Association Board of Governors has voted unanimously to investigate whether President Bush is violating the constitution by issuing signing statements to bypass new laws. The Boston Globe recently reported President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey an unprecedented 750 laws enacted since he took office. Among other laws, Bush has said he can ignore Congress’ ban on torture as well as Congressional oversight of the Patriot Act.