A Pentagon investigation has concluded Bush administration officials engaged in inappropriate behavior in their handling of Iraq intelligence before the U.S. invasion. In a report set for release later today, the Pentagon inspector general faults former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith for including “reporting of dubious quality or reliability” to make the case of Iraqi links to al-Qaeda. In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin called the Pentagon investigation a “devastating condemnation of the activities of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.”
In Iraq, the U.S. military is facing allegations of killing 45 Iraqi civilians in an airstrike near Amiriyah. Police and hospital officials say the bombings flattened four homes in the village of Zaidan just south of Abu Ghraib — killing women, children and the elderly. A photograph released by the Associated Press shows the body of a boy in the back of a pickup truck taken to the nearby Fallujah hospital. Several other children were reportedly admitted with injuries. The U.S. military denies the account and says 13 insurgents were killed.
Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers were killed in fighting Thursday near the western Anbar province. At least 14 servicemembers have now died in Iraq over the past three days.
Palestinian leaders meeting in Saudi Arabia have reached a power-sharing agreement aimed at ending months of internal fighting and a year-long international aid freeze. Under the deal, the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, will form a coalition government led by Hamas.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Hamas has agreed to “respect” the Palestinian Authority’s past peace agreements with Israel and a Palestinian plan for a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some are calling the pledge Hamas’ most significant commitment to a peace agreement with Israel so far. Israeli officials gave the agreement a cool reception. Israel says Palestinians must also agree to international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s “right to exist.” Israel’s critics say the conditions are unfair because Israel refuses to renounce violence against Palestinians or recognize the Palestinian right to a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza.
The deal comes as major clashes erupted today between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian worshipers attending Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque. More than 200 Israeli soldiers reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets after Palestinians chanted slogans and threw stones to protest Israel’s ongoing excavations near the site. At least 17 Palestinians were arrested.
Iran’s top leader issued a new warning Thursday over how Tehran would react to a United States attack. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments were read over Iranian television.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “The enemies know well that any aggression will lead to a reaction from all sides in the Iranian nation on the aggressors and their interests around the world, and we believe that no one will make that unwise and wrong move to endanger their country and interests, but some say that the U.S. president is not the type who acts based on calculations and thinks about the consequences of his action.”
The warning came as Iran finished two days of war games, including a successful test of land-to-sea missiles. Defense Secretary Robert Gates downplayed the new developments.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “My impression is that they make threats like this from time to time. We have no intention of attacking Iran. The president said that; the secretary of state, I said it before. Obviously when it comes to things like these tests, we watch them closely, and other than that I think it is just another day in the Persian Gulf.”
Gates was speaking at a NATO summit in Seville, Spain. Hundreds of protesters turned out to call for a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and protest the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. U.S. officials are using the meeting to pressure NATO countries to increase their deployments in Afghanistan. Earlier in the day, Danish Defense Minister Soren Gade backed the Bush administration’s call for more troops. Denmark has less than 400 troops in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries, including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Turkey, have ruled out reinforcements. Last year was Afghanistan’s worst year of violence on record since the U.S. invasion of 2001.
Six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program have entered a second day. Diplomats are reportedly considering a draft proposal from China that calls on North Korea to close nuclear facilities in exchange for aid. On Thursday, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said progress has been made.
U.S. Envoy Christopher Hill: “We are dealing not only with denuclearization, but we are dealing with some of the problems in the region, some of the problems in the region caused by the region’s difficult history. This type of ambitious undertaking hasn’t been tried before, so we’ve got a lot of work to do. But we think if we can get this first good step, it will give us some momentum to get to the next step and the step after that.”
Here in the United States, the Senate has approved General George Casey to become the next chief of staff of the U.S. military. The 83-to-14 vote came despite recent criticism over Casey’s performance as commander of the Iraq War. Among Democrats voting for Casey was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid: “I understand others would like to vote no in an attempt to make the general a scapegoat for a war that has gone horribly wrong. I believe there are still others who attempted to use this nomination as a way to express opposition to the president’s escalation proposal, a plan General Casey once opposed but now supports.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would curb an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that allows the Justice Department to replace federal prosecutors without Senate confirmation. The attorney firings — and their replacements — have raised allegations the Bush administration is interfering with the judicial system. Eleven U.S. attorneys have been replaced in the past few months. A similar bill is expected in the House next month.
In Arizona, at least three people have been killed and two seriously injured in an apparent hate crime against undocumented immigrants. The victims were traveling in a pickup truck with other immigrant workers. Armed assailants stopped the truck, opened fire and took the survivors captive. The kidnapped workers have not been found. The attack comes one day after four gunmen wearing ski masks robbed 18 immigrants near Arizona’s border with Mexico.
Here in New York, newly released documents have revealed hundreds of protesters arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention were held up to six times longer than those arrested on other charges. More than 1,800 people were arrested during the four-day convention. They were held an average 32 hours. Those arrested for other offenses were held for five. The New York Civil Liberties Union says the documents reveal a deliberate policy by the New York Police Department to keep protesters off the streets. NYCLU associate legal director Christopher Dunn said: “During the convention, you got to a judge much faster if you were a bank robber than if you were charged with parading without a permit.” The documents also show scores of police officers complained about toxic exposure at the Hudson Pier, where protesters were sent.
In Georgia, state officials have announced a shortfall in federal funding will prevent new children from being enrolled in Georgia’s child health insurance program. The warning comes days after critics said the president’s new budget request falls far short of what is needed to keep covering the six million children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program nationwide. Georgia state officials say enrolled children will continue to receive services, but the program could run out of money as soon as next month. Georgia is one of 14 states facing child insurance shortfalls.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, prosecutors say they will seek charges against three police officers involved in the shooting death of an elderly African-American woman. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was at least 88 years old. She was killed after firing on the police officers after they broke into her home. One of the officers has admitted they obtained a search warrant by lying about information from a police informant. Despite the indictments, Johnston’s family says it wants the prosecutor to back off so as not endanger a broader federal investigation by the FBI.
And in Colorado, the city of Aurora has agreed to pay a $600,000 settlement to the family of an unarmed African-American man killed by police three years ago. The victim, Jamaal Bonner, was shot in a confrontation with police after he was lured to a hotel by an undercover officer. As part of the settlement, the city apologized to Bonner’s family and agreed to change the policy on police stings. Jamaal Bonner’s father, Bobby Bonner, said: “For us to fight for change, that is the most important thing, more than any amount of money they could possibly give us. My son didn’t die in vain.”