A new consensus assessment from all sixteen US intelligence agencies has concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program more than four years ago. The National Intelligence Estimate starkly contradicts the Bush administration’s claims Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear bomb. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley announced the findings in Washington.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley: “The IC [intelligence community] has high confidence, high confidence, that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program that it has never acknowledged and continues to deny. The intelligence community has high confidence that Iran halted its covert nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, and they have moderate confidence that it had not restarted that program as of mid-2007.”
The assessment goes on to conclude spy agencies do not know whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. It effectively rejects a National Intelligence Estimate two years ago that claimed Iran was pursuing a nuclear bomb through a secret program. The estimate also stands in stark contrast to recent language from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. In October, Bush warned of a “World War III” if Iran continued with alleged nuclear activities. According to the Washington Post, the Bush administration has maintained its threatening rhetoric despite hearing of the intelligence community’s skepticism as early as July. Despite the findings, Hadley and other administration officials say they remain concerned Iran will attempt to develop a bomb.
Hours before the new intelligence report was released, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at a summit of Gulf Arab states where he proposed a regional security pact.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We propose the establishment of economic and security pacts and institutions among the seven states here. The pacts should serve the people of our region more than ever before.’’
The new report was released just over five years since the erroneous 2002 intelligence estimate that claimed Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was intent on restarting its nuclear program. The report proved mostly false but was used as the basis to drum up congressional support for war. Intelligence officials interviewed by the New York Times say the specter of the 2002 report hung over their activities. The report also comes as the UN’s weapon inspection agency for Iraq is preparing to close its doors. On Monday, UNMOVIC director Brian Mullady said looking back, his main regret is not having prevented a war.
UNMOVIC director Brian Mullady: “I guess my nostalgia is that if we had perhaps been more trusted by the world and then the fact that we were doing a good job over there, UNSCOM had done a good job — UNSCOM destroyed more missiles than the forces did during the 1991 war. So, if we had had more trust, more people that said, 'Yes, this is probably true,' and more doubt about what the US and the British position was, maybe we could have prevented a war.”
The World Food Program is warning hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are at risk of going hungry this winter in Syria. A recent survey found one-third of respondents skip a meal a day to feed their children. Syria is currently host to around 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. A new estimate from the Iraqi Red Crescent says just 25,000 have returned. The Iraqi government recently claimed the number coming back was double that amount. Meanwhile, Iraq’s internally displaced population continues to grow. On Monday, Iraqi Red Crescent workers began resettling more than 100 families displaced following US raids on the southeast town of Adwaniya.
Iraqi Resident: “The Americans have arrested them. They have been arrested as the Americans get information about them from our close neighbors and relatives. They have arrested thirty-two men from one neighborhood. What did those children do? My daughter asked me about her friends from our neighborhood. I’m sick, and my children are sick, too, but we cannot go to the doctor. I do not know what to say!”
There are an estimated 2.4 million internally displaced people inside Iraq.
Meanwhile, reports continue to emerge of US attacks on Iraqi civilians. Earlier today, the Pentagon said US soldiers mistakenly shot five civilians traveling in a car in the town of Tarmiya north of Baghdad. One passenger died while being taken to the hospital. Five Iraqi civilians, including a child, were killed in similar US shootings last week.
In Afghanistan, a poll shows Afghan approval of US forces has reached a new low. According to ABC News, 42 percent of Afghans rate US forces positively — down from 57 percent last year and 68 percent in 2005. A record number of civilian casualties from NATO attacks was cited as the primary reason for the declining support.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, nearly 500 Palestinians were released Monday from Israeli jails. The imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti called the move “a joke.” Barghouti says most of the prisoners were already nearing the end of their sentences in the coming months. Between eight to ten thousand Palestinians remain imprisoned by Israel.
In Russia, international observers are crying foul in Sunday’s sweeping parliamentary victory for President Vladimir Putin’s political party. Official results gave United Russia 64 percent of the vote. On Monday, Goran Lennmarker of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rejected the result.
Goran Lennmarker: “Could I first say that our central conclusion is that these elections failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have in the OSCE and the Council of Europe. And by that it is not, as we say, a fair election.”
The parliamentary victory is expected to help Putin maintain wide influence over Russian politics after he steps down next year.
Here in the United States, the right-wing radio talk show host Michael Savage is suing an Islamic advocacy group for excerpting portions of his show in which he called the Quran “a book of hate.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations highlighted Savage’s remarks in a letter-writing campaign to advertisers.
The Iraq war architect and ousted World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz is reportedly close to returning to the Bush administration. Newsweek magazine reports Wolfowitz has been offered a position as chair of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board. The panel advises Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on issues including nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. As Deputy Defense Secretary, Wolfowitz was one of the key backers of the faulty WMD allegations that led to the Iraq war.
In media news, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News network has refused to run an ad criticizing President Bush over the use of extraordinary rendition, torture and denying habeas corpus. The commercial was produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights and features the narration of actor Danny Glover. The CCR submitted the ad ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled Supreme Court hearing in the case of two Guantanamo prisoners challenging their detentions.
And in Louisiana, the Jena Six defendant Mychal Bell has reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Bell will get an eighteen-month sentence to a juvenile prison and receive credit for time served. He is expected to be released by June. Bell’s attorneys say they accepted the deal to spare him the risk of a conviction on more serious charges. The prosecutor and judge in the case have been accused of leading an overzealous campaign against Bell and five other black teens for a schoolyard fight that left a white student injured. The fight occurred several months after white students hung nooses from a tree under which black students had sat.