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In Iraq today, U.S. forces are continuing a series of raids around Baghdad. Several Iraqis reported property damage and injuries after U.S. troops entered their homes.
Sadr City resident Umm Jaafar: "They stormed our house while we were sleeping. We were afraid of them. They beat us and damaged the house on our heads. This is not a search. People did not do such things when searching. Normally, they search in a peaceful way."
In other Iraq news, a U.S. soldier has been sentenced to 100 years in prison for his role in the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family last year. Sgt. Paul Cortez pleaded guilty earlier this week. He’s the second soldier to be sentenced in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi and the killing of her two parents and five-year-old sister. Cortez could be paroled in 10 years.
In Australia, Vice President Dick Cheney continued his visit Down Under with yet another warning against a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Vice President Dick Cheney: "The notion that free countries can turn our backs on what happens in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or any possible safe haven for terrorists is an option that we simply cannot indulge. If our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance of the country."
Cheney went on to praise Australian Prime Minister John Howard for keeping Australian troops in Iraq. His comments came as polls show nearly 70 percent of Australians want an immediate pullout or a timetable for withdrawal. Antiwar protests continued around Cheney’s visit for a second day. Hundreds of people turned out behind heavy police barricades, waving signs and chanting "Chain up Cheney."
The Guardian of London is reporting the British government is set to announce the deployment of another 1,000 British troops to Afghanistan. The increase would come just days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the withdrawal of 1,600 troops from Iraq. The Bush administration has been urging NATO countries to step up troop deployments in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Thursday, a top Afghan insurgent leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, compared the current fight against the U.S. military to the struggle against the Russian invasion of 1980s.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: "The previous policy of the invading force in Afghanistan did not succeed, and its new policy in Afghanistan will not succeed. The occupying forces have only one option for success, and that is to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. And hopefully they will choose that (option) without wasting time."
Hekmatyar is believed to have received hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from the Reagan administration when he led one of the leading Mujahideen groups against the Russian occupation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has declared Iran in defiance of an international deadline to stop nuclear enrichment. On Thursday, the IAEA said Iran is operating close to 1,000 centrifuges. Experts say it would take 3,000 centrifuges running for a year to enrich weapons-grade fuel. The Bush administration immediately vowed to lead efforts to impose more sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the possibility.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "I am deeply concerned again that (the) Iranian government did not meet the deadline set by the Security Council. In fact, this has been in the hands of the Security Council. ... (The) Security Council has adopted a sanction measure against the Iranians, and we hoped that the Iranian government would have fully complied with all these resolutions adopted by the Security Council."
Iran responded on a different note. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, called the inspectors’ report a vindication.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh: "Yes, this report is the best document proving that all activities of Iran have been exclusively for peaceful purposes. In this report, it says that there is no indication of diversion for military purposes, and all nuclear material has been accounted for."
The developments come amidst new doubts about the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities. Diplomatic sources at the IAEA have told The Guardian newspaper much of U.S. intelligence given to U.N. inspectors has proven incorrect. The dead-end information has included a list of sites U.S. officials alleged as possible areas of illegal nuclear activity. In one case, the CIA claimed to have found plans for a nuclear warhead on a stolen government laptop supplied by an informant. Doubts were immediately raised when all of the data was in English, not Farsi.
In the Occupied Territories, a new report has found nearly half of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are "food insecure." The World Food Program study marks the first since the Bush administration led efforts to impose an international boycott on the Palestinian government following the election of Hamas. Four out of five Palestinian families in Gaza reported reducing their overall spending, including food purchases. The news comes as the Bush administration has reiterated its refusal to lift the aid freeze on the Palestinian government. Other Middle East Quartet members have expressed willingness to explore a softer stance but have so far refused to back lifting the boycott. On Thursday, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad criticized the international stance.
Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad: "The pressure should be also imposed on the Israeli side, that denies all our national rights, that denies the ’67 borders, that denies the right of return, that denies also the right of evacuation of all settlements. So I think it is not fair to impose a condition on the Palestinian side and at the same time to ignore the Israeli government."
In Norway, the first international gathering for a global ban on cluster bombs is in its second day. Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere opened the conference on Thursday.
Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere: "The weapons that we are here to discuss are indiscriminate area weapons. They cause damage that is disproportionate to their potential military effects. They do not distinguish between civilian and military targets."
The New York Times is reporting the extent of recent U.S. military involvement in the Horn of Africa is greater than previously believed. The Pentagon used a military airstrip in Ethiopia to wage airstrikes it claimed were intended to capture or kill two top al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Special forces were also deployed in parts of Somalia along with Ethiopia and Kenya. The Pentagon initially claimed success but later admitted it failed to kill or capture the two al-Qaeda leaders.
In Egypt, the CIA extraordinary rendition victim Abu Omar has spoken out for the first time since his release from prison earlier this month. Omar, a Muslim cleric, was kidnapped by CIA operatives in Italy and flown to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. Thirty-one suspects, including 26 Americans, have been ordered to stand trial in Italy for the abduction. On Thursday, Abu Omar said he would return to Italy to testify.
Abu Omar: "What I wish for is to stand in front of the court and explain everything to them and prove to them that I am innocent from any accusations. I am also pointing my word to the Italian people, telling them that I will not give up the Italian people in their disaster, and I will stand and face any disaster they face. I will also stand with all the oppressed in the world, and I hope to work with human rights organizations to fight for the rights of the arrested all around the world."
In other news from Egypt, an Egyptian blogger has been sentenced to four years in prison. Abdel Kareem Soliman is the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt. He was brought to trial on charges of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator. Amnesty International called the ruling "yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt."
In Colombia, a former director of the secret police has been arrested on charges of aiding right-wing militias in the murder of human rights workers and union activists. Jorge Noguera headed the Department of Administrative Security under President Alvaro Uribe. He’s accused of supplying paramilitaries with a hit list of several names — most of whom were later killed. Noguera resigned two years ago amidst allegations of militia ties. Uribe later named him to a diplomatic position and defended his innocence.
Back in the United States, the court trying Jose Padilla heard testimony Thursday Padilla may now be suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, in which captives identify with their captors. Forensic neuropsychiatrist Angela Hagerty made the assessment at a preliminary hearing to determine if Padilla can stand trial on charges of aiding al-Qaeda. The Bush administration jailed Padilla without charge after initially accusing him of plotting a dirty bomb attack. Padilla was held in extreme isolation without almost any human contact for about 1,300 days and denied an attorney for nearly two years.
The private military company Blackwater USA has announced a new venture. Total Intelligence Solutions has been founded to provide clients with CIA-like intelligence services. The company roster includes several former intelligence officials, at least two with strong Blackwater ties. The company advertises a "24/7 intelligence fusion and warning center" that will help companies respond to threats and decide where to operate. The company also promises to "monitor civil unrest, terrorism, economic stability, environmental and health concerns, and information technology security around the world."
In media news, the Federal Communications Commission is holding its third public hearing today on media ownership. The hearing is being held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In Nevada, local outcry has forced the Pentagon to cancel a planned bomb test in the Nevada desert. The test would have detonated a 700-ton charge for research toward developing advanced weapons. Several local residents had filed lawsuits to stop the test.
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman has given his strongest indication to date he could be switching to the Republican Party. In an interview with Politico, Lieberman suggested Democratic opposition to funding the war in Iraq could lead him across the aisle. Lieberman says he has no desire to change parties, but added: "If that ever happens, it is because I feel the majority of Democrats have gone in a direction that I don’t feel comfortable with." Lieberman ran and won as an independent after losing the Connecticut Democratic nomination to challenger Ned Lamont last year.
And in Boston, police have announced plans to destroy their entire arsenal of pepper-spray pellet guns. The weapon came under intense scrutiny three years ago when police shot and killed 21-year-old journalism student Victoria Snelgrove during a baseball celebration.
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