Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is reporting there has been a significant increase in the tempo of planning for war with Iran inside the Bush administration. Writing in The New Yorker, Hersh reports the White House recently requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack. Hersh also reports the Bush administration’s rationale for bombing Iran has shifted from Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program to Iran’s role in Iraq. Hersh writes, “What had been presented primarily as a counterproliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.” The focus is no longer a broad bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities but strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere. On Sunday, John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for the U.S. to attack Iran and for the overthrow of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During a meeting in England, Bolton said negotiations with Iran had failed and that he saw no alternative to military action.
In Burma, thousands of military troops have taken over downtown Rangoon as the military junta intensifies its effort to crush a wave of pro-democracy protests. Over the weekend, Burma’s military leaders locked down Buddhist monasteries, arrested dissidents and set up barricades across the country. The Wall Street Journal reports at least 700 monks and 500 other people have been arrested. Dissident groups say they fear hundreds of protesters have been killed over the past week. The military junta is attempting to control all information coming out of the country. The government has reportedly ordered the closure of several privately owned newspapers that refused to print government propaganda. Burma’s only Internet server has been shut down, and the government is blocking all text and picture messaging on mobile phones. British Ambassador Mark Canning is in Rangoon and says the military has for the moment squeezed the protests off the streets.
U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma on Saturday and met with jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace laureate was briefly released from house arrest for the meeting. Gambari has also been holding talks with members of Burma’s military junta, but he has been prevented from speaking with Burma’s top military chief.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Congress of Journalists has condemned the military junta after Burmese troops shot dead the Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai. Video footage has been aired in Japan showing Nagai was shot at point-blank range. Kenji Nagai was 50 years old.
In Sudan, at least 12 African Union soldiers were killed in Darfur on Sunday in the worst attacks on international troops since they were deployed in 2004. The killings occurred when over a thousand armed rebels stormed an African Union base. More than 50 other troops are reportedly missing. The attack took place just as a new diplomatic initiative for peace got underway. A delegation of so-called “elders” including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived in Khartoum on Sunday.
In Iraq, the number of U.S. troops killed since the invasion has topped 3,800. Meanwhile the Associated Press reports more than 185,000 U.S. troops have sought medical care after being injured in the war. The total number of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invasion is unknown, but some estimates put the total at over one million.
A military court-martial has cleared an Army sniper accused of murdering two Iraqi civilians. But the sniper, Specialist Jorge Sandoval, was sentenced to five months in prison for placing detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look as if the man was an insurgent.
An Iraqi journalist was killed by a mortar shell in the northern city of Mosul on Friday. Abdul Khaliq Nasser is the seventh journalist to be killed in Mosul this year.
Amnesty International is calling on the Shiite-led Iraqi government and U.S. forces to protect Palestinian refugees living in Iraq. Amnesty says Shiite militias have committed gross human rights abuses against thousands of Palestinian refugees including abduction, hostage taking, unlawful killing, torture and other ill-treatment.
Blackwater has received a new $92 million contract from the Pentagon to fly passengers and cargo between locations around Central Asia. The contract was announced at a time when Blackwater is the target of several investigations over its role in Iraq following a deadly shooting in Baghdad two weeks ago that left at least 11 Iraqis dead. Newsweek has obtained an extensive evidence file assembled by the Iraqi national police after the Sept. 16 shooting. Iraqi officials concluded Blackwater forces opened fire unprovoked from the ground and the sky.
Over the weekend, the State Department revealed Blackwater employees have been involved in 56 shootings while guarding U.S. diplomats this year. Meanwhile, Blackwater has put off plans to buy 1,800 acres of farmland near Fort Bragg in North Carolina where it was planning to set up a training ground for soldiers and corporate executives. Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince has been called to testify before Congress on Tuesday.
Syria has accused Israel of making excuses for war by spreading false reports that an alleged Israeli Air Force strike earlier this month targeted a nuclear facility. Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa says Israel bombed an empty area on Sept. 6 after Syrian air defense systems confronted the aircraft.
Farouk al-Sharaa: “The Israelis are making up things to justify an aggression in the future. They are playing on public opinion to mislead it.”
The Guardian newspaper reports President Bush was castigated by European diplomats on Friday and found himself isolated after a special conference on climate change ended without any progress. European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference criticized Bush for failing again to commit to binding action on climate change. Britain and almost all other European countries want mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse emissions. President Bush is pushing for nations to voluntarily reduce emissions. Mogens Peter Carl outlined the European Commission’s vision on how to tackle the crisis.
Mogens Peter Carl: “What we have put on the table is two-fold. In the first place, an offer that we are prepared to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2020, provided that other major emitters amongst the developed countries do the same. And secondly, and perhaps at least as importantly, we have made a decision — not a commitment, it’s a unilateral decision — that we will, whatever comes out of the planned negotiations, reduce our CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020.”
In other environmental news, The Washington Post has revealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s pursuit of criminal cases against polluters has dropped off sharply since President Bush took office. The number of prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions are all down by more than a third. Critics of the agency say its flagging efforts have emboldened polluters to flout environmental laws, threatening progress in cleaning the air, protecting wildlife and eliminating hazardous materials.
A new series of medical studies suggest that the stressful effects of racism plays a role in why the infant mortality rate for African-American babies is so high. Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white or Latino babies in the United States. The infant mortality rate in some predominantly black areas, including the Mississippi Delta and Memphis, is higher than those of many Third World nations.
In campaign news, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain has suggested he only wants to see Christians elected to be president. He said, “I admire the Islam. There’s a lot of good principles in it. But I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.” McCain’s comment came during an interview with the website BeliefNet in which he also claimed the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation.
Salon.com reports a powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination. The decision was made during a gathering of the Council for National Policy. Christian leaders involved in the decision include James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
And in other campaign news, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has publicly ruled out a possible run for the Republican presidential nomination.
In Costa Rica, more than 100,000 people rallied on Sunday to protest the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. It was one of the largest protests ever in Costa Rica, which has a population of about four million people. Voters in Costa Rica head to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to ratify CAFTA. Opponents say the so-called free trade deal will threaten the livelihoods of Costa Rican farmers and will limit the country’s sovereignty.
Protester: “We don’t believe that we should sacrifice in a rough or dishonest way the social state of law which Costa Rica has enjoyed for so many years. And with this pact that they are trying to sell to other nations and in the interests of very few, that is what we are opposed to.”
The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic ratified the free trade deal but did so without holding a vote.
About 1,000 bicyclists rode through the streets of San Francisco on Friday to mark the 15th anniversary of the monthly ride known as Critical Mass. Since the first Critical Mass in San Francisco in 1992, the ride has spread to over 300 cities around the world.