The New Yorker magazine is reporting the Pentagon has established a special planning group within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to plan a bombing attack on Iran. According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the new planning group has been charged with developing a bombing plan that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President Bush. Hersh also reveals that U.S. military and special operations teams have already crossed the border into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives.
Hersh reports this comes as the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia are pumping money for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria and Iran, in an effort to strengthen Saudi-supported Sunni Islam groups and weaken Iranian-backed Shiites. Some of the covert money has been given to jihadist groups in Lebanon with ties to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, there are growing signs that high-level officials within the U.S. government are concerned over the administration’s Middle East policy. Seymour Hersh reports that John Negroponte resigned his post as national intelligence director for a job at the State Department in part because of his discomfort that the administration’s covert actions in the Middle East so closely echoed the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the London Times reports that up to five senior U.S. generals and admirals are signaling that they will resign if President Bush attacks Iran.
On Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that all options remain on the table for Iran.
Dick Cheney: “We’ve worked with the European community and through the United Nations to put in place a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and to resolve the matter peacefully. That’s still our preference. But I’ve also made the point, the president has made the point, that all options are still on the table.”
Vice President Cheney’s comments came during a trip to Australia. Today Cheney is in Pakistan meeting with Pakistani President General Musharraf. Cheney’s meeting with Musharraf comes just a week after The New York Times revealed that al-Qaeda has resumed running training camps inside Pakistan.
The Daily Telegraph is reporting Israel is seeking permission to fly fighter jets through Iraqi airspace in case the Israeli government decides to attack Iran. Three Arab countries — Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — have reportedly told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace.
In other news on Iran, the Los Angeles Times reports most of the U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on Iran has proved inaccurate. None of the tips about supposed secret weapons sites have provided clear evidence that Iran was developing illicit weapons. One senior diplomat at the IAEA said, “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong.”
In Iraq, 40 students died on Sunday when a female suicide bomber blew herself up on the campus of a predominantly Shiite college in Baghdad. Following the attack, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr released a statement condemning the U.S crackdown in Baghdad. He said, “The security plan will not be good if it is controlled and ruled by our enemies, the occupiers.”
On Saturday, thousands of Shiites denounced the U.S. military for arresting the son of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, one of the country’s top Shiite leaders. Ammar al-Hakim was detained after crossing from Iran into Iraq. He was released after several hours but claims he was mistreated.
Ammar al-Hakim: “I was surprised by the bad treatment. (A U.S. soldier) beat me and kicked me toward the wall. He pushed me toward the wall and bound me again, but this time he bound (my hands) behind my back. He tightened the binding, and the signs are still here. The signs of the binding that was practiced against me the second time are still here. He tied me from behind my back, but he also blindfolded my eyes.”
In western Iraq, 56 people died on Saturday when a fuel tanker rigged with explosives blew up at a Sunni mosque. Over 100 people were also injured. Analysts say the bombing was likely carried out by fellow Sunnis connected to al-Qaeda. It occurred a day after the mosque’s imam described al-Qaeda as “a bunch of corrupted individuals.”
Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani has been hospitalized in Jordan. His office said the 73-year-old Kurdish leader is suffering from extreme exhaustion and dehydration but that his life is not in danger.
The U.S. military is being accused of killing 26 people, including women and children, in the Iraqi city of Ramadi last week. A U.S. airstrike demolished at least one home. Video shot by the Reuters news agency shows bodies buried in the rubble. Local residents carried the bodies away from the demolished house in blankets. One Iraqi said an infant died in the bombing.
Ramadi resident: “It is a poor house, I swear to God. I swear to God that this is an infant, and he is only one month old. Hey, film this infant who is only one month old. And his brother was also killed, They were more than 10 members of the same family. They were 13 members of one family.”
The U.S. military has announced it is investigating the bombing.
Newly released Pentagon statistics show nearly 800 civilian contractors and mercenaries have been killed since start of the Iraq War. Another 3,300 contractors sustained injuries serious enough to require four or more days off the job. There are now 120,000 contractors in Iraq.
In military news, the Army has refiled charges against war resister 1st Lt. Ehren Watada. Last year he became the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq. His initial court-martial ended in a mistrial. If convicted on all counts, Watada faces up to six years in prison.
Meanwhile, Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson has been sentenced to seven months in a military prison. Wilkerson went AWOL after being denied conscientious objector status by the U.S. Army. Before he turned himself in last August, he recorded this message:
Mark Wilkerson: “I am not willing to kill. I am not willing to be killed. Or, I am not willing to kill or be killed for something I don’t believe in. My morals said that going to Iraq was not the right thing to do. And I was not going to live a life of violence. I was not going to participant in a war. So I then made the very difficult decision to go AWOL at that point.”
The number of Americans living in deep or severe poverty has reached nearly 16 million. A new analysis by the McClatchy Newspapers found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent since 2000. During this time period, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries.
The United States has rejected an international call to ban the use of cluster bombs. On Friday, 46 countries agreed in Oslo to develop a new international treaty to ban the use of cluster munitions by 2008. The United States, Russia, Israel and China chose not to attend the conference. U.S. allies Romania, Poland and Japan attended the conference but refused to sign the Oslo Declaration.
A new United Nations report has compared Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza to apartheid South Africa. A South African attorney named John Dugard wrote the report for the U.N. Human Rights Council. The 24-page report criticizes Israel for demolishing the homes of Palestinians, for restricting the movement of Palestinians, and for giving preferential treatment to Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Dugard said, “Israel’s laws and practices in the occupied Palestinian territories certainly resemble aspects of apartheid.” The Guardian newspaper reports Dugard’s comments represents some of the most forceful criticism from the U.N. of Israel’s 40-year occupation.
The West Bank city of Nablus remains under curfew for a third day as the Israeli military continues to carry out house-by-house searches and raids in the city. It is the largest Israeli operation in Nablus since 2004. At least 25 Palestinians have been detained.
In news from Europe, the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled today that Serbia is not guilty of carrying out genocide during the Bosnia war. The court ruled the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica was genocide, but said it could not be established that Serbia was complicit.
In London, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday in a protest organized by the Stop the War Coalition. The protesters were calling for an end to the Iraq War, no replacement of Britain’s nuclear weapons system and no attack on Iran.
Protests were also held on Friday in Ottawa, Canada, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with top officials from Canada and Mexico. Rice was questioned about the Bush administration’s refusal to take Maher Arar off its terrorist watchlist even though the Canadian government now insists he is an innocent man.
Condoleezza Rice: “We respect the decision of the Canadian government concerning Mr. Arar. The United States, of course, makes decisions based on information that we have and based on our own assessment of the situation.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s Supreme Court has declared that it is unconstitutional for the government to indefinitely detain foreign terror suspects. The Canadian government has been holding five Muslim men for years under the so-called security certificate program.
In election news, five peace activists were arrested on Friday at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in San Francisco. They held banners that read: “We Need a Peace President” and “Hillary, Stop Funding War.”
In Guatemala, the Nobel laureate and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu has announced she will run for president. If elected, she would become the first indigenous female head of state in Latin America.
Rigoberta Menchu: “I have accepted the presidential candidacy for 2007. We want to give hope to the young people and women, not just women from Guatemala, but also women of the world who for many years have been waiting to participate. And, well, there are two excellent teams.”
Meanwhile in East Timor, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta has also announced plans to run for president. He has been serving as East Timor’s prime minister since last year.
Jose Ramos-Horta: “I chose Laga, one of the poorest town’s of this country, to announce my candidacy because I spent many years here as a kid and I have been here many times over the years. I know many people. Many people know me around the country.”
In Michigan, U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara has announced her resignation. She refused to elaborate on her departure, but some believe she was forced to step down by the Bush administration. At least seven federal prosecutors have resigned in recent months in what some have described as a political purge. All of the resignations have occurred since Congress passed an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that allows the U.S. attorney general to name replacements to open U.S. attorney posts without Senate confirmation.
A state court in Oregon has overturned the 22-year sentence given to an environmental activist convicted of burning three SUVs in Eugene, Oregon. The activist, Jeffrey Luers, has already served six years in prison. He will now be re-sentenced and could be released as soon as next year. Supporters of Jeffrey Luers have long criticized the sentence as draconian because the action resulted in no injuries and less than $500,000 in property damage. Luers has said he set the SUVs on fire to raise awareness about global warming.
Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 83rd birthday on Saturday. He blamed the country’s economic crisis on Western nations.
Robert Mugabe: “There will never be a regime change here. There will always be the people of Zimbabwe in control. Neither Bush or Blair can bring about regime change here, never. We will never accept it.”
Ahead of Mugabe’s birthday celebration, police arrested scores of opposition activists, including three lawmakers. Political rallies and processions were also banned in the capital of Harare. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since it became independent from Britain in 1980.
In news from Africa, trade unionists in Guinea have ended their general strike after the country’s president agreed to name a new prime minister.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has learned a shocking secret about his family’s history: His ancestors were slaves once owned by relatives of late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. According to the New York Daily News, Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave in South Carolina. His owner gave him as a gift to the Thurmond family in Florida. Thurmond once ran for president promising to preserve racial segregation.
Meanwhile, in Virginia the state’s General Assembly voted on Saturday to express “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery. Virginia is the first state to approve such a resolution.
In Detroit, Louis Farrakhan has given what has been described as his last major address as the head of the Nation of Islam. He denounced the war in Iraq and called for President Bush’s impeachment. Sunday’s speech was his first major address since he became sick last August.
And former Vice President Al Gore is now an Oscar-winning filmmaker. His movie “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Oscar last night for best documentary.
Al Gore: “My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act, and that’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”