An Italian judge has ordered 26 Americans and five Italians to stand trial for the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan. The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was sent to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. The case would mark the first criminal trial over the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
The development comes amid new testimony implicating the CIA in Abu Omar’s kidnapping. Former Italian intelligence chief Gianfranco Battelli has told prosecutors the CIA asked him his opinion on the possibility of seizing a terrorist suspect and flying him to a foreign country. Battelli says the conversation took place just days after the 9/11 attacks. Battelli is not implicated in the case, but his successor, Nicolo Pollari, is facing indictment.
More U.S. troops are on the way to Afghanistan. President Bush made the announcement Thursday in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute.
President Bush: “I’m asking Congress for $11.8 billion over the next two years to help this new democracy survive. I’ve ordered an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. We’ve extended the stay of 3,200 troops for four months, and we’ll deploy a replacement force that will sustain this increase for the foreseeable future. The forces and funds will help President Karzai defeat common enemies.”
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the House will vote today on a nonbinding resolution opposing the deployment of 21,000 more troops to Iraq. The vote follows three days of debate on the House floor. On Thursday, Republican Congressmember Cathy McMorris Rodgers argued in favor of the troop increase.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “Supporting our troops but not supporting the war is not an option. Victory is the only real choice. The consequences of failure are unacceptable. Abandoning Iraq will embolden the militants, create a humanitarian crisis impacting millions. Instability in the Middle East will create more violence and will leave the U.S. vulnerable to future attacks. I urge my colleagues to oppose this resolution.”
As many as two dozen Republicans are expected to vote with the Democrats in opposing the troop increase. If the resolution passes, it will mark the first time Congress has voted against President Bush’s Iraq War policy. Also Thursday, Democratic Congressmember Paul Kanjorski said Congress should vote against escalating the war.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski: “The president, the vice president and the former secretary of defense believed they could fight this war on the cheap, with too few troops, too little armor and too little help. They were wrong, and now it is too late. Mr. Speaker, from my perspective, the resolution before us today has been long overdue.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced the Senate will hold a rare Saturday vote on whether to resume discussion on its version of the nonbinding measure against the troop increase.
Debate is expected to intensify in the coming weeks when President Bush sends Congress a $100 billion budget request to fund the Iraq War. Democratic leaders appear to have chosen a new strategy that would allow war funding only if combat units are certified as battle-ready and troops have been given at least a year at home before additional deployment. Supporters say the strategy would allow Democrats to maintain support for U.S. troops while effectively opposing the troop increase because the military is overstretched. Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressmember John Murtha are backing the proposal.
The development comes as outgoing Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker has said the troop increase in Iraq is putting a strain on the U.S. military and could be far larger than announced. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, General Schoomaker called the figure of 21,000 more troops “the tip of the iceberg.” U.S. commanders have requested an additional 2,500 troops to embed with Iraqi forces. Another 6,000 soldiers could be called up to provide support to U.S. combat brigades. Schoomaker says he has voiced concerns to the administration because the troop increase would further deplete the readiness of combat units.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the growing controversy over the Pentagon’s conflicting statements on Iran’s role in Iraq. Gates believes roadside bombs are coming from Iran, but says he doesn’t know if those shipments are being directed by the Iranian government as the Pentagon initially claimed. Gates said the Pentagon is sensitive to skepticism following its handling of intelligence before the Iraq War but insisted there is no hidden motive behind the new allegations.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran.”
In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian leaders began steps toward a new unity government Thursday. In a ceremony with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas announced his resignation to form a new cabinet.
Ismail Haniyeh: “In my name, as the recent prime minister for the 10th Palestinian government, I introduce in front of you my resignation, that opens the way for the constitutional process to take place to create the unity government, the 11th government. I am praying to God to help our people for what they are looking for in freedom, the return of refugees, and independence.”
The unity deal was aimed to end months of factional violence and a year-long international aid freeze that has further crippled the Palestinian economy. Hamas has made a vague pledge to respect previous peace accords with Israel, but the Bush administration is already indicating that won’t be enough. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting U.S. officials have told Palestinians the U.S. will continue to boycott their new government. In an interview with The Washington Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would not waver from demands that Palestinians renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Palestinians have argued the conditions are unfair because Israel refuses to renounce violence against them nor recognize their right to a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza.
In Spain, the first trial into the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, opened Thursday. Dozens of victims were in attendance.
Pilar Manjon, head of the March 11 Victims Association: “This is the first ray of light after a long road of (initial legal work) to get to this point. For us, it is an important triumph to have arrived to this stage, the first hearing of the March 11 (trial).”
Twenty-nine suspects are standing trial. On Thursday, the alleged mastermind, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, told the court he condemns the attacks unconditionally and completely. Prosecutors say Ahmed is one of four suspects who heeded a call by Osama bin Laden to attack countries backing the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Back in Italy, a massive protest is expected tomorrow against the expansion of a U.S. military base in the city of Vicenza. The U.S. Embassy is predicting a turnout of more than 70,000 people.
The protest comes amid reports the U.S. military is set to build a new base in Australia. The Australian newspaper The Age reports the installation will play an integral role in helping the U.S. military wage wars in the Middle East and Asia.
Here in New York, a federal judge has ordered the New York Police Department to stop videotaping innocent protesters at political demonstrations. The judge ruled the police have repeatedly violated what is known as the Handschu guidelines that dictate how the police carries out political investigations. The city’s police department had attempted to abolish the guidelines after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In Virginia, the jailed former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian has been hospitizaled. Al-Arian has entered the fourth week of a hunger strike to protest efforts to force him to testify in another case. Al-Arian has spent the past four years in jail despite a jury’s failure to return a single guilty verdict in the case alleging ties to the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
College and high school students across the nation walked out of class Thursday in a national student strike against the Iraq War. In California, an estimated 1,000 students at UC Santa Barbara blocked traffic on a freeway. Up to 3,000 students turned out for an antiwar rally at UC Berkeley. And at least 400 rallied at Columbia University here in New York. More than a dozen other schools took part around the country.
Former Vice President Al Gore has announced a string of concerts this summer to call attention to global warming.
Al Gore: “This is what it is all about, getting the message, getting people’s attention and then asking them to answer the call, S-O-S, answer the call to save ourselves, and then giving the solutions for communities, families and for nations.”
The Live Earth concerts will be held July 7 in seven different countries including the United States.
And finally, this update to a story from yesterday’s broadcast. A British court has ruled the government of Zambia must pay $20 million to a “vulture fund” that bought one of Zambia’s debts for just $4 million.