Up to 24 Iraqi civilians are reportedly dead following a U.S. air strike near the city of Baquba. Another 27 people were wounded. The toll is said to include women and children. Witnesses say at least four homes were leveled in the attack. Some of the victims were killed after rushing out of their homes to help those hurt in the initial bombing.
A new showdown is brewing on Capitol Hill over the disclosure the Justice Department secretly issued memos granting expansive approval for harsh interrogation techniques. Democrats want the White House to turn over classified memos that reportedly authorized methods including head slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures. The existence of the memos was disclosed by The New York Times. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair John Rockefeller of West Virginia said: “I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino confirmed the memos were issued but refused to discuss their contents.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino: “I am not going to comment on any specific alleged techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so. And to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques. And so I am going to decline to comment on those, but I will reiterate to you once again that we do not torture. We want to make sure that we keep this country safe.”
On Capitol Hill, the House has overwhelmingly approved a measure that would subject private military contractors in Iraq to prosecution in U.S. courts. The move comes on the heels of last month’s killing of up to 28 Iraqi civilians by guards working for the private military firm Blackwater USA. The bill would not be retroactive, meaning Blackwater guards would still likely avoid prosecution. The final vote was 389 to 30. If the measure attracts the same support in the Senate, Congress would have enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Meanwhile, evidence continues to emerge the Blackwater shooting was unprovoked. A newly disclosed Pentagon report from the attack scene says Blackwater guards were the first to fire and used excessive force. The reports follow evidence showing the Blackwater guards opened fire in another attack just minutes after the first shooting. Iraqi witnesses say Blackwater operatives fired into a group of cars just 150 yards away from the first shooting at Nisoor Square. At least one person was killed and two injured.
In news from Washington, Idaho Senator Larry Craig has announced he won’t be stepping down. Craig pleaded guilty in August to disorderly conduct in a men’s bathroom. Craig made the decision despite a court’s refusal to let him withdraw his guilty plea.
New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has announced he won’t seek re-election next year. The 75-year-old Republican has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. The Hill newspaper is reporting Republican Congressmember Heather Wilson will run for Domenici’s seat. Both Wilson and Domenici were wrapped up in the scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.
In Burma, the military junta is refusing to meet the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi unless she drops all of her key demands. A government presenter announced the decision on state television Thursday.
Government presenter: “State Peace and Development Council Chairman Senior General Than Shwe mentioned to Mr. Gambari that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been exerting efforts for confrontation, utter devastation, and imposing all kinds of sanctions including economic sanctions against Myanmar. If she declares to give them up, the senior general will personally meet her.”
Suu Kyi has been in detention for 12 of the 17 years since her 1990 election. The current uprising in Burma marks the strongest challenge to the ruling junta in nearly 20 years. On Thursday, the junta admitted to arresting more than 2,000 people in the government crackdown on the protests. But dissident groups and foreign diplomats say some 6,000 people are behind bars, with hundreds believed dead.
Protests in support of the Burmese uprising continue worldwide. On Thursday, dozens rallied in Tokyo outside the Burma embassy.
Burmese exile Myint Swe: “Though people in Myanmar cannot watch us protesting as Internet connection there has been cut, officers working in embassies around the world must have seen our protests and heard our voices.”
A global day of protests for Burma will be held on Saturday.
In Chile, the widow and five children of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet have been arrested on corruption charges. The Pinochet family was detained as part of an ongoing probe into allegations Augusto Pinochet hid tens of millions of dollars in public funds in foreign banks.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet: “Nobody in Chile can believe that justice cannot be met or that they are immune to the system, so I believe that we should be calm and wait for the outcome, but I think that it’s valid that there is justice and that it has a role to play.”
Arrest warrants have been issued for another 17 people, including retired military generals and former Pinochet confidants.
A group of veteran diplomats and activists known as the Elders have wrapped up a visit to Sudan and Darfur. The group, including former President Jimmy Carter, the human rights campaigner Graça Machel and the former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, harshly criticized the Sudanese government for the treatment of Darfurian refugees. Graça Machel described the conditions inside the refugee camps.
Graça Machel: “Every single person we spoke to, the first thing they told us: They need security. They need security. They gave us examples of what happens to them even graphically to show how women are being raped, are beaten and are brutalized. I think because they thought we may not get a clear translation, they went at length of using gestures to show us how brutal it was.”
Former President Jimmy Carter assailed Sudan for what he called “a crime against humanity.” But he warned against labeling the conflict in Darfur “a genocide.”
Jimmy Carter: “This is not genocide, and to call it genocide falsely just to exaggerate an horrible situation, I don’t think it helps. … I’m not derogating or minimizing the problem at all, but, you know, genocide is reserved as a term for a special case that’s horrendous.”
While Carter’s fellow “elder” Archbishop Desmond Tutu was allowed to visit Darfur, he won’t be welcome at the campus of one Minnesota university. The University of St. Thomas has canceled Tutu’s scheduled appearance for the spring of next year. School officials say they’re barring Tutu because of previous statements he’s made “against Israeli policy.” Tutu has compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to South Africa under apartheid. St. Thomas Professor Marv Davidov said: “As a Jew who experienced real anti-Semitism as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this. I deeply resent the Israeli lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”
The World Bank is being accused of backing the destruction of the world’s second-largest forest. An independent audit says World Bank officials have encouraged foreign companies to excessively log the rainforest in the Congo, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies. According to The Guardian newspaper, the World Bank is also accused of misleading the Congo’s government about the forest’s value. Some 40 million people depend on Congo’s forests for medicines, shelter and food.
The family of an openly gay National Guard member found dead in Afghanistan is raising questions over whether she was murdered. Family members say Ciara Durkin told them last month she feared retribution over objections she had raised to unspecified activity at the Bagram Airfield. Durkin is said to have warned her family members to call for an investigation in case anything happened to her. She was found shot once in the head last week.
And the Olympic gold medalist track star Marion Jones has admitted to using steroids. For years Jones has denied allegations she’s used performance-enhancing drugs. Jones is expected to plead guilty today in a New York court. In a letter to family and friends, Jones apologized and said she had been unknowingly given the drugs by her personal trainer. Jones’ admission could strip her of the five medals she won in 2000 at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.