The United Nations is estimating about sixty-six hundred Iraqi civilians were killed in July and August. The number is far higher than initial estimates suggested. The overwhelming majority of the casualties died of gunshot wounds. Hundreds of bodies also showed signs of severe torture and execution-style killing.
The BBC is reporting it has obtained proof that Israelis have been giving military training to Kurds in northern Iraq. The evidence shows Israeli experts training Kurdish soldiers in shooting techniques. Kurdish officials have refused to comment on the report and Israel has denied it knows of any involvement. For years there have been rumors that Israel was working in Kurdistan but no definitive proof has emerged until now.
Meanwhile Saddam Hussein’s trial was thrown into chaos on Wednesday after the former Iraqi president challenged the appointment of a new judge overseeing the trial. Minutes later, the judge ousted Hussein from the courtroom after he refused to sit down. Then Hussein’s defense lawyers stormed out. The court continued its proceedings without them.
The governor of Maryland is calling for the state to scrap its electronic voting system and revert to paper ballots for the November elections. Governor Robert Ehrlich said such a move was needed because of technical glitches that occurred during last week’s primary election. The Baltimore Sun reports the governor wants to stop using electronic voting machines built by Diebold because they repeatedly crashed. Local election officials are still counting thousands of paper provisional ballots used by voters last week when the check-in machines failed. In the 4th Congressional District poll workers are still trying to determine who won the race between incumbent Congressman Albert Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards.
In other voting news, the U.S House of Representatives backed a bill on Wednesday to require voters show a photo ID–such as a passport — that proves their citizenship in order to vote in federal elections. Republican backers of the measure said the move is needed to prevent voting fraud. But civil rights advocates said the measure is a modern-day poll tax that could disenfranchise millions of voters. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has warned that the bill would disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, the elderly, disabled and the poor.
At the United Nations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed the United States for its military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Chavez described President Bush as the devil and predicted the U.S. empire would fall. He questioned President Bush’s notion of democracy.
NATO’s top commander has announced NATO countries are sending thousands of more troops to Afghanistan to help fight the Taliban. Meanwhile the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has now reached about 20,000 — the highest number of U.S. forces in the country since the Taliban government was toppled nearly five years ago. On Wednesday Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Here in this country, another former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has spoken out against President Bush’s plan to redefine parts of the Geneva Conventions. On Wednesday Gen. Hugh Shelton said it would be an egregious mistake for the country to water down its obligations to upholding the Geneva Conventions. So far five former chairm of the Joints Chief of Staff–including General Colin Powell–have publicly objected to the president’s efforts.
In news from Guantanamo, lawyers for a Saudi man are attempting to have their client removed from the prison because he has gone insane. The man has been held in solitary confinement for a year and reportedly is so mentally unbalanced that he considers insects his friends.
In an update to a story we’ve been following closely, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been forced to back away from comments he made about U.S. involvement in the case of Maher Arar. Arar is the Canadian citizen who the U.S. abducted and sent to a Syrian prison where he was tortured. On Monday the Canadian government exonerated Arar and criticized the U.S. role. At a news conference the next day Gonzales said “We were not responsible for his removal to Syria. I’m not aware that he was tortured.'’ On Wednesday, a Justice Department spokesperson said Gonzales had misspoken. The spokesperson said the attorney general forgot that at the time of Arar's deportation, such matters were still handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was part of the Department of Justice.
In Thailand–the country’s new military regime has banned political parties from staging rallies or conducting any other activity. The military seized power on Tuesday by staging a coup while the Thai prime minister was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly. Meanwhile the military is imposing new curbs on the media and have requested a meeting to discuss the new rules with the heads of the country’s media outlets. Thailand’s top general is expected to ask all media to stop broadcasting text messages from viewers and to stop running other expressions of public opinion. On Wednesday, the Bush administration criticized the coup. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey said, “There’s no justification for a military coup in Thailand or in any place else. We certainly are extremely disappointed by this action.”
In news from Sudan, the African Union has announced it would strengthen and extend the life of its peacekeeping force in Darfur. The African Union currently has about 7,000 peacekeeping troops in Darfur but their mandate had been set to end at the end of the month. The Sudanese government has rejected attempts by the United Nations to replace the African Union force with 22,000 UN soldiers and police officers. On Wednesday, thousands of Sudanese marched on the US Embassy in Khartoum to warn against the deployment of UN troops.
In other news on Sudan–President Bush has named Andrew Natsios to be his special envoy to that country. Natsios is the former head of U.S. AID and the former head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority which oversaw the scandal-plagued Big Dig construction project in Boston.
In the Gaza Strip, five Palestinians have died so far today in attacks by the Israeli military. The dead included a 35-year-old mother who was killed when an Israeli tank shell exploded near Rafah. Three of her children were injured in the blast. The violence came just hours after the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States voiced their support for a bid by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to form a government with Hamas.
In Israel, veterans of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and parents of slain troops disrupted a speech by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. One protester began screaming “Go home Olmert.” A new poll by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz found that public support of Prime Minister Olmert is plummeting. His approval rating now stands at 22 percent. The approval rating of his Defense Minister Amir Peretz is at just 14 percent.
In Argentina, a retired police commissioner has been sentenced to life in prison for murder, torture and kidnappings during Argentina’s “dirty war.” Miguel Etchecolatz ran secret prisons in Buenos Aires during his time as provincial police commissioner. During the military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983, up to 30,000 people were killed in the government’s dirty war. On Wednesday one of the Mothers of the Disappeared responded to the sentencing: “”The decision is one part but we still needs to know where my granddaughter is, where my son and my daughter-in-law and the 30,000 who disappeared are. That’s the true answer that we should await.”
Here in this country, a federal judge has rejected an attempt by the Bush administration to allow new roads be built through nearly 60 million acres of national forest land. President Bush wanted to open up the land to logging, mining and other activities. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled that the policy ignored both the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The judge reinstated a Clinton administration rule that prohibited new roads on some pristine wildlands.
California’s attorney general has sued the six largest American and Japanese automakers for damages related to greenhouse gas emissions. The lawsuit alleges that emissions from their vehicles have harmed Californians’ health, damaged the environment and cost the state millions of dollars to combat their effects. The lawsuit was filed against General Motors, Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Newly released White House documents reveal that two close associates of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff visited the Bush White House over 100 times since 2001. The records show that Grover Norquist was cleared for 97 visits to the White House and Ralph Reed was cleared for 18 visits. E-mails obtained this summer by the Associated Press show Norquist facilitated several administration contacts for Abramoff’s clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform.
And in England, a speech by Home Secretary John Reid was disrupted Wednesday by a British Muslim activist named Abu Izzadeen. He accused the government of practicing state terrorism.
At the time Reid was meeting with members of the Muslim community in East London. It was his first speech to a Muslim audience since becoming home secretary.