The U.S. State Department has begun investigating Israel’s use of U.S.-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. The New York Times reports that Israel may have violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it can employ such weapons. Three types of U.S.-made cluster munitions have been found so far in southern Lebanon. The State Department has also held up sending Israel a shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, a cluster weapon. During the 1980s, the U.S. imposed a six-year ban on sales of cluster bombs to Israel after a Congressional investigation determined that Israel had used the weapons against civilians during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Yesterday we questioned Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Carmon, about the cluster bombing of the Lebanese civilian population.
Ambassador Daniel Carmon: What I can tell you, that Israel abides by the principle of international law and international military law. I don’t want to go specifically into details of something that has been written in one report, respectable as it is or not. I’d rather not go into the details.
Amy Goodman: Well, Israel hasn’t denied that it’s used cluster bombs in Lebanon. And now, after the hot conflict has begun to simmer down, you still have these bomblets on the ground that are exploding.
Ambassador Daniel Carmon: Well, I didn’t deny it either. What I was saying, that we are abiding by the international law, the military and the international humanitarian law. And I would leave it at that.
In Lebanon, the long process of clearing areas of cluster bombs and landmines has already begun.
Lebanon’s speaker of the parliament has accused Israel of waging an economic war on Lebanon. Nabih Berri told the Financial Times that Israel’s ongoing air and sea blockade is crippling Lebanon’s economy.
A top European official says international troops could start deploying to southern Lebanon within days. On Thursday France agreed to send 2,000 soldiers. French Prime Minister Jacque Chirac urged all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to contribute troops. But the United States and Britain have already ruled out sending troops. Foreign Ministers from the European Union are meeting today in Brussels to discuss the size of the European troop deployment. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke to reporters before the meeting.
In other news from Lebanon, the bodies of 23 people were exhumed from a mass grave in Tyre on Thursday. The 23 civilians died two weeks ago in the Israeli bombardment of the town of Marouahine.
Meanwhile Lebanese parents are reporting their children are still suffering from the 34 days of fighting.
The Israeli military’s chief of staff has acknowledged that there were considerable logistical, operational and command shortcomings during the recent attack on Lebanon. In a letter to Israeli troops, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said the military’s response will be investigated.
The New York Times is reporting some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are accusing the intelligence community of playing down the threat posed by Iran. Much of the criticism is coming from Republicans who advocated for the invasion of Iraq. On Wednesday the House Intelligence Committee issued a report criticizing the intelligence community for not knowing more about Iran’s weapons of mass destructions programs and for being unwilling to make provocative conclusions about the danger Iran poses to the world. The consensus of the intelligence community is that Iran is still years away from building a nuclear weapon. But some Republicans have rejected that conclusion. Some veterans of the intelligence community say the current debate is similar to the one that preceded the Iraq war when backers of the Iraq invasion criticized the intelligence community for downplaying the threat posed by Iraq and for disregarding claims that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda.
In other news on Iran, Russia announced today it will not support imposing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
In Iraq, the top US general in the Middle East said Thursday that there had been “great progress on the security front in Baghdad recently.” General John Abizaid made the comments on the same day that at least 16 Iraqis and two U.S. troops died. British Troops Forced to Abandon Iraq Base
Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr are rejoicing today after British troops decided to abandon their base in the city of Amara. Supporters of Sadr said this marks the first time an Iraqi city has kicked out occupying troops. The British decided to move its 1200 troops after the base came under heavy mortar and rocket fire. The British troops are now preparing to wage guerilla warfare in the region in an attempt to secure the Iranian border. According to press accounts, this marks the first public acknowledgement that forces from the U.S.-led coalition have entered into guerilla warfare.
The Food and Drug Administration has decided to make the “morning-after” contraceptive pill known as Plan B available without a prescription to people 18 and older. But the FDA decided girls 17 and younger will need a prescription to obtain the pills. Plan B will only be available from pharmacists at drugstores and health clinics. Purchasers will be required to show proof of their age. The decision ended a three-year battle within the FDA.
In Gaza, kidnapped journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig have entered their 11th-day in captivity. Suspicion is growing that the men were kidnapped by foreign militants. All of the major Palestinian factions have called for the men to be released.
Federal agents have arrested a New York man for broadcasting the Lebanese TV station al-Manar inside the United States Javed Iqbal was arrested on Wednesday. The Pakistani-born man is being held on $250,000 bail and faces at least five years in prison. In March the State Department designated the TV station to be a terrorist entity because of its links to Hezbollah. Iqbal runs a small television company in Brooklyn that installs satellite receivers across New York. He was arrested after an FBI informant attempted to have Al-Manar installed on his satellite system.
A federal judge has ruled that the government can legally tap the phones of anyone handling “material that is not generally available to the public.” Privacy experts says the ruling by Judge T.S. Ellis opens the door for the U.S. government to monitor journalists. Steven Aftergood who edits the journal Secrecy News said, “If the press could only report on 'information generally available to the public,' there would be no need for a press.” The ruling came in the trial of the two former AIPAC lobbyists who are accused of receiving classified intelligence from a Pentagon official.
School children across the United States have given more money for Katrina relief efforts than all but five of the country’s largest corporations. According to the group RandomKid, school children have raised over $10 million over the past year through bake sales, lemonade stands, car washes and other fundraisers. School children gave more to the Katrina relief efforts than companies such as AT&T, Verizon, GE and Coca-Cola.
In other news on Katrina, a new report indicates that the government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina work with limited or no bidding. The Shaw Group and Bechtel are among the companies that received no-bid contracts. Both have close ties to the Bush administration. The Shaw Group’s lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a longtime friend of President Bush. Bechtel’s CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush’s Export Council.
In news from Louisiana, a school bus driver has been suspended after she forced nine African-American children to sit in the back of the bus behind the white students. All of the students attended the Red River Elementary School in Coushatta, Louisiana. The NAACP said it is considering filing a formal charge with the Justice Department.
In other education news, a seventh grade geography teacher in Colorado was suspended earlier this week for displaying flags from Mexico, China and the United Nations in his classroom. An obscure Colorado state law prohibits the display of any foreign flag in public buildings and schools. Temporary displays of other flags are allowed but the school principal did not consider the display in Eric Hamlin’s classroom temporary enough. After the case made national news, the school said Hamlin could return to the classroom as long as he keeps the flags up for no more than six weeks.
In television news, the producers of the reality TV program Survivor have decided that it will start dividing its contestants along racial lines and will let the groups duke it out for supremacy. It will be whites versus blacks versus Latinos versus Asians. CBS admitted the idea was controversial but denied it was intended to promote racial divisiveness. Critics of the idea say the show will nurture stereotypes and reinforce myths about the inferiority of particular races.
And Kerry Ryan has died at the age of 35. To many Americans she was the symbol of the horrors of Agent Orange. She was the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran who had been exposed to Agent Orange, the dioxin that the U.S. military widely used in Vietnam and Cambodia. Kerry was born with multiple birth defects. She had a hole in her heart, two cervixes, no anus, a deformed right arm and spina bifida. In 1979 she was named in a class-action lawsuit against Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of Agent Orange. In Vietnam millions of people still suffer illnesses and birth defects because of Agent Orange but the U.S. has refused to compensate the victims.