The Iraqi government is calling for an independent inquiry into the rape of an Iraqi woman and the killing of her and three members of her family. The woman, Abeer Qasim Hamza, is believed to have been as young as fifteen years old. Former US soldier Steven Green was arrested for the crime on Monday. At least four active US troops are also under investigation. Military officials have said little on the case but some details of the allegations were revealed in an FBI affidavit obtained by the Washington Post. According to the document, the soldiers planned the attack after noticing Abeer Qasim Hamza at a US checkpoint in the town of Mahmudiyah. On March 12th, the soldiers disguised themselves in dark clothing and broke into her family’s home. Green then herded Hamza’s parents and young sister into a room and shot them with an AK-47 rifle. Green and another soldier then raped the woman, shot her, and set her body on fire in an apparent effort to cover up the crime. Neighbors told investigators Abeer Qasim Hamza had expressed concerns to her mother because the soldiers had made advances towards her. The military believed insurgents carried out the attack on her family until at least two soldiers discussed it during counseling sessions following the abduction and slaying of two members of their platoon. Speaking in Kuwait Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said the case is raising questions over the immunity granted to occupying troops.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, military spokesperson Major General William Caldwell addressed the ongoing investigation.
In other news from Iraq, ten people were killed and forty wounded in a suicide car bombing today in the holy city of Kufa. Most of the victims were Shiite pilgrims from Iran. On Wednesday, six people were killed and seventeen injured in a bombing near a mosque in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, a decorated Marine has announced he will return one of his six medals in protest of the Iraq war. The marine, Sgt. Matthew Bee of Akron, Ohio, says he believes President Bush has used the War on Terrorism service medal for political purposes. Bee and other Marines will travel to Washington where they will try to return their medals to Bush or to members of Congress.
Mexico’s presidential election is still too close to call as electoral authorities work around the clock to verify millions of votes. ??With nearly 98 percent of the votes recounted, conservative candidate Felipe Calderon holds a razor-thin lead–around point zero five of a percent–over populist rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. ??Both candidates have insisted they will win the election. The Federal Electoral Institute says it expects to announce the result soon. As the final figures come in, the gap between the two has narrowed to just thousands of votes out of a total of 41 million ballots cast. ??Lopez Obrador refused to accept preliminary results issued earlier this week that gave Calderon a narrow lead. He alleged there had been “serious evidence of fraud”, and said that if he lost he would call for a ballot-by-ballot recount. He said the initial results had “many inconsistencies” and his party claimed some voting places were counted twice while others were not counted at all.
In Peru, thousands of farmers took part in a country-wide protest Wednesday against a trade agreement with the United States. Police used tear gas to disperse farmers who blocked several major highways. Peru ratified the deal last week. The US Congress is expected to follow this month. Farmers say the agreement was negotiated in secret and will unfairly expose them to heavily-subsidized US products.
In Italy, two high-ranking intelligence officers have been arrested on charges they helped CIA agents abduct a Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan three years ago. Mauro Mancini, the deputy head of Italy’s military intelligence service, has been jailed. His predecessor, Gustavo Pignero, is under house arrest. The arrests marked the first time Italian officials have been linked to the abduction of Hassan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. Nasr was seized as he walked from his home to a local mosque. He was taken to joint U.S.-Italian base and eventually flown to Egypt. There, Nasr says he was beaten and given electrical shocks on his genitals. He was never charged with a crime and has never appeared in a court of law. Meanwhile, prosecutors say they’ve obtained new warrants for three CIA agents and one employee of the local US air base. The new warrants bring to twenty-six the number of Americans charged in the case since last year.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have re-occupied three abandoned settlements and entered the Palestinian town of Beit Lahiya. A twenty-year old Palestinian civilian was killed by gunfire from an Israeli tank. Meanwhile, two reporters from the Arabic television network Al Jazeera were wounded when their car came under fire from Palestinian militants. The reporters later said they had been mistaken for Israeli agents.
In news from Capitol Hill, the House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to turn over documents related to the probe into abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. The subpoena was issued following Rumsfeld’s failure to respond to an earlier request. The committee is investigating how the Pentagon handled claims of abuse at the prison. Specialist Samuel Provance, who ran a computer intelligence network at the prison, has alleged Pentagon officials ignored his attempts to provide information on the abuse and retaliated against him for speaking to the media.
In other news, a new report says the racial gap in income distribution is widening. According to the Economic Policy Institute, African-American families now earn less of a percentage of the earnings of white families today than they did six years ago.
And Enron founder Ken Lay has died. A doctor said the cause of death was coronary artery disease and that Lay had likely suffered a heart attack in the past. The doctor says he is awaiting further toxicology results. Lay died facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail over his role in one of the largest corporate frauds in US history. Six weeks ago, he was convicted on ten counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and for making false statements to banks. He was to be sentenced along with convicted former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling later this year. Four years ago Enron filed for bankruptcy after years of defrauding its own employees and investors. The bankruptcy put over 4,000 people out of work. The value of the company’s stock dropped from ninety dollars to about 30 cents. Thousands of Enron employees lost their lifesavings.
Ken Lay and his family rank among President Bush’s biggest career financial backers. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Enron was Bush’s top career donor until 2004. The President even nicknamed Lay “Kenny Boy.” But in the aftermath of the Enron scandal, the Bush administration has attempted to distance itself from Lay. At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow was questioned about Ken Lay’s death.
Tony Snow: I really have not talked to him about it. I will give you my own personal reaction, which is that when somebody dies, you leave behind those that grieve, and I think that they deserve our compassion. But — I don’t know, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?
Reporter: I do not know. I don’t know him. The President was his friend, not me.
Tony Snow: No, the President has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the President’s acquaintances have passed on during his time in office. Again, I think that it is sort of an interesting question but not answerable by me.
According to several analysts Lay’s death will effectively nullify his conviction because he is no longer alive to take part in his appeal. Just last week prosecutors filed a motion asking Lay to forfeit more than $40 million dollars. Lay’s estate will now likely be able to hold on to his remaining assets. However, the estate could still be brought to court in civil cases by former Enron employees.