The Bush administration has admitted to sharing key military intelligence with Turkey that could be used for a full-scale assault on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. Turkey has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops on its Iraq border in what it calls an attempt to stop Kurdish rebel attacks. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it has assisted Turkey with spy planes and information on Kurdish positions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region tomorrow. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack denied U.S. backing of a Turkish attack.
State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack: “Talking about Turkey’s needs in terms of defending itself, obviously those are decisions that Turkey is going to have to make for itself. But our view remains the same, and I’m sure that she’ll have some good discussions with Turkish interlocutors.”
The Washington Post is reporting the State Department is facing an internal uproar over new rules that would force U.S. officials to serve in Iraq. The dissent was heard Thursday at a town-hall meeting of hundreds of U.S. diplomats in Washington. One Foreign Service officer received “sustained applause” after calling service in Iraq “a political death sentence” that otherwise would have been closed were it anywhere else in the world. Another officer complained the State Department refused to pay for her medical treatment after she returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. Diplomats were informed last week that nearly 50 vacant positions would be filled in Iraq through mandatory assignments. It’s believed to be the first time officials have been ordered into foreign posts since the 1960s.
A top U.S. adviser on terrorism has publicly denounced the interrogation technique of “waterboarding” as a form of torture. On Wednesday, Malcolm Nance said he had witnessed hundreds of waterboarding exercises while working at the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, special operations and intelligence. Nance says the practice is taught at a U.S. Navy training facility in San Diego. Waterboarding simulates the experience of drowning by strapping a victim to a board and forcing water into their lungs through a cloth covering the face. Attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey is facing a potential rejection from the Democrat-controlled Senate over his waterboarding stance. Mukasey said this week he does not know if waterboarding amounts to torture. Legal experts interviewed by The New York Times say Mukasey’s evasive response could be a deliberate attempt to avoid laying ground for prosecutions against U.S. officials who have practiced waterboarding. Mukasey’s nomination goes before the Senate next week.
The senior Bush administration official tasked with promoting U.S. foreign policy worldwide has resigned. On Wednesday, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes announced she will step down later this year. Hughes oversaw a series of marketing campaigns aimed at foreign countries. A recent 47-nation poll from Pew Global Attitudes found the U.S. image in Muslim countries in Asia and the Middle East is “abysmal.” Over the past five years, favorable ratings of Americans declined in 23 of 33 countries surveyed.
The U.S. government has dropped a major deportation case dating back to the Reagan administration. On Tuesday, the Board of Immigration Appeals announced prosecutors will end a 20-year attempt to deport two Palestinian Americans for allegedly raising money for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In 1987, the Reagan administration attempted to bar the two men, Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, and six others on the grounds that they were connected to a communist group. The men became known as the L.A. Eight. They were never deported because a federal appeals court declared the anti-communist law unconstitutional. Earlier this year an immigration judge ruled the government violated the defendants’ constitutional rights in a case he called “an embarrassment to the rule of law.” The ruling marked the government’s sixth unsuccessful attempt at prosecution. Under a settlement, Hamide and Shehaded will be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship in three years.
In Burma, hundreds of monks marched in the temple town of Pakokku Wednesday. It was their first protest since the military junta’s crackdown on a mass uprising. Witnesses say the monks chanted prayers but refrained from political statements. The march comes ahead of a return visit from U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Speaking in Thailand, the exiled Burmese opposition leader Maung Maung called for increased international pressure on the military junta.
Maung Maung: “We have to stop the money going to the regime, and that is why we’re also calling for the Jade bill, and also we’re calling for that the action to be taken on oil and energy companies that are working in Burma, so that the money that goes to the regime is blocked, and the regime cannot — doesn’t have the money that will enable the military to move onto the democratic opposition. So this is what we’re asking for.”
The U.S. oil giant Chevron is among several international firms with close ties to the junta.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is accusing the Burmese junta of filling its depleted armed forces with an increasing number of child soldiers. Human Rights Watch Burma consultant David Scott Mathieson says children as young as 10 years old are being forced to enlist.
David Scott Mathieson: “With the dramatic expansion of the military, which has more than doubled the military after 1988, has meant that recruitment has become more predatory, and their standards have dramatically dropped, and the morale of the soldiers, as a result, has plummeted, as well. And they need all these new soldiers to staff the battalions and also use all this new equipment that they’re buying internationally.”
At least 3,500 soldiers are said to be deserting the Burmese army every three months.
In Spain, 21 people have been found guilty of involvement in the 2004 train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid. Seven of the accused were acquitted of any role in the bombings including one alleged mastermind. Juan Carlos Vives Segura of the Terrorism Victims Association said he is disappointed with the verdict.
Juan Carlos Vives Segura: “We were convinced that there were more people behind the attacks, not as part of a conspiracy theory, simply that not only those who sat there were responsible. As a matter of fact, there is only four or five guilty sentences and only for assisting, not for carrying out the attacks.”
The 21 guilty defendants are expected to appeal their convictions.
Back in the United States, a jury has ordered a homophobic Kansas church to pay millions of dollars in damages for cheering the funeral of a U.S. marine because they believe U.S. deaths in Iraq are a punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. On Wednesday, jurors ruled that Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church owes the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder $10.9 million for emotional distress. Church members attended Snyder’s 2006 funeral with signs reading “You’re going to hell” and “God hates you.” Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, welcomed the verdict.
Albert Snyder: “Kind of speechless, I guess, about it. You know, I think — I hope it’s enough to deter them from doing this to other families. I mean, that was the goal the whole time. It wasn’t about the money. It was about getting them to stop.”
Church members say they plan to appeal.
In the Caribbean, more than 80 people have been killed in flooding from Tropical Storm Noel. At least 56 have died in the Dominican Republic, and some 25,000 have been left homeless. The death toll has hit 24 in neighboring Haiti. An unidentified flooding victim in Port-au-Prince described her ordeal.
Unidentified Port-au-Prince resident: “For three days, we have been without food or clothes. I called the U.N. troops to see if I could get inside the shelter to see my two children, and they would not let me in.”
Haiti is especially vulnerable to flooding because most of its trees have been cut down to make charcoal. Noel passed through Cuba last night with no reported casualties.