In Colombia, 120 were arrested on Sunday during President Bush’s visit to the capital of Bogota. Protesters clashed with police as Bush met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe during a brief seven-hour trip to the capital. Thousands of protesters took to the streets to criticize President Bush’s foreign policy.
Colombian protester: “He represents the crimes that imperialism has committed since the beginning of the 20th century and through this century. He’s assassinated thousands in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine, and he continues to assassinate people, trade unionists, independent farmers in Colombia. That’s why we’re burning this rubbish flag.”
Colombia was the third stop on President Bush’s five-country tour of Latin America. Today he is in Guatemala and Mexico.
On Friday, President Bush held a press conference alongside Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
President Bush: “I don’t think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people’s lives. And so my trip is to explain, as clearly as I can, that our nation is generous and compassionate; that when we see poverty, we care; that when we see illiteracy, we want to do something about it; that when we find there to be a deficiency in healthcare, we’ll help to the extent we can.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been conducting his own tour of the region to counter Bush’s trip. On Friday, Chavez addressed tens of thousands in Argentina. On Sunday, he met with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the Cuban National Assembly.
Hugo Chavez: “Mr. President of the United States, what is the fundamental cause of this poverty and of this misery? This is what you represent, precisely, the basic cause, is the empire which is the main guilty party. Neoliberal capitalism is the principal cause of the misery, of the exploitation of the people. That’s the main cause of the misery. You are the cause, mister. Get out of here. Gringo, go home!”
President Bush has approved sending 8,200 more U.S. troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The troop escalation comes in addition to the 21,500 troops Bush ordered to Iraq in January. On Friday night, President Bush officially asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for $3.2 billion in emergency funding to pay for the troop increases.
In Baghdad, representatives from 13 nations, including the United States, Iran and Syria, held a closed-door summit in the Green Zone on Saturday to discuss the situation in Iraq. Iran demanded a timetable for withdrawal; the U.S. accused Tehran of aiding Shiite militias.
On Sunday, at least 58 people were killed in attacks across Iraq. In Baghdad, 31 Shiite pilgrims died in a car bombing as they returned from a religious festival.
Meanwhile, up to 100 Iraqi homes were burned to the ground on Sunday in the town of Muqdadiyah. The houses were set on fire apparently by Sunni militants to rid the area of Shiite families and to punish uncooperative Sunni households. Officials are fearing house burnings will become a new intimidation technique in Iraq’s civil war.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress. Officials say such a strategy would be based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador. During the 1980s, President Reagan sent Green Berets to train the Salvadoran military. At the same time, the CIA secretly backed death squads in El Salvador.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is scrambling to find enough troops to send to Iraq. Salon.com reports the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.
Pressure is increasing on President Bush to dismiss Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales has been at the center of a pair of recent scandals involving the political purging of eight U.S. attorneys and the FBI’s misuse of the PATRIOT Act to gain personal information on thousands of Americans. On Sunday, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and called for Gonzales to step down. The editors of The New York Times have also called for his resignation. This comes as more details have emerged in the scandal over the purging of the U.S. attorneys.
The McClatchy newspapers has revealed that presidential adviser Karl Rove was urged by the chair of the New Mexico Republican Party to fire the state’s U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, because he had failed to indict Democratic officials ahead of the midterm election. Iglesias was fired on December 7. The White House admitted on Sunday that Rove had relayed complaints from Republican officials and others to the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office. Newsweek is also reporting Alberto Gonzales’ chief of staff drew up a list of prosecutors to be fired.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Democrats have announced plans to hold hearings on the FBI’s abuse of the PATRIOT Act to obtain private telephone, email and financial records on American citizens. On Friday, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged the FBI broke the law to secretly pry out personal information about Americans. Lawmakers are now threatening to amend the USA PATRIOT Act and limit the FBI’s powers. Last week’s report from the inspector general of the Justice Department also revealed that the FBI had an unusual contract with three phone companies to provide call records and subscriber information without legal process.
Protests are scheduled today outside the Washington Convention Center where AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, is holding its annual policy conference. The protest is being organized by the D.C. Antiwar Network, the American Council on Mideast Policy, Global Exchange, National Association of Muslim American Women and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The protesters are accusing AIPAC of bribing and bullying American lawmakers into supporting Israel, often in ways that ultimately harm Americans. Vice President Cheney is scheduled to address the AIPAC convention this morning. Top Democrats speaking at the conference include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Meanwhile, a United Nations watchdog group says Israel should ease roadblocks and other restrictions on Palestinians and stop building a wall through the West Bank. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also voiced concern over an unequal distribution of water resources, a disproportionate targeting of Palestinians in house demolitions and the “denial of the right of many Palestinians” to return to their land.
In business news, the U.S. oil services giant Halliburton has announced it will move its corporate headquarters from Houston to the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Halliburton is the biggest U.S. contractor operating in Iraq. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said, “This is an insult to the U.S. soldiers and taxpayers who paid the tab for their no-bid contracts and endured their overcharges for all these years.” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said his panel will hold hearings on Halliburton’s move and discuss the ramifications for the U.S. taxpayer and national security.
Nevada Democratic Party officials have canceled a presidential debate co-sponsored by Fox News. The decision was made a day after Fox News Chair Roger Ailes joked about how Senator Barack Obama’s name is similar to Osama bin Laden’s. During a speech on Thursday to the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation First Amendment Dinner, Ailes said, “It’s true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?” Fox News’ coverage of Obama had already been widely criticized. Last week, the filmmaker Robert Greenwald released a short online video featuring clips of recent Fox News coverage.
The U.S. military is defending its decision to force two freelance journalists working in Afghanistan for the Associated Press to delete photos and video at the scene of a U.S. shooting last week. An Army spokesperson claimed that taking pictures could misrepresent what had happened in the incident. Col. Victor Petrenko said, “When untrained people take photographs or video, there is a very real risk that the images or videography will capture visual details that are not as they originally were.” The Associated Press disputed the assertions. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said, “In democratic societies, legitimate journalists are allowed to work without having their equipment seized and their images deleted.”
In other media news, the California videographer Josh Wolf has now spent over 200 days in jail. He is the longest-incarcerated journalist in U.S. history for refusing to comply to a subpoena. He remains in jail because he refuses to testify or turn over unpublished video to a federal grand jury investigating a protest in San Francisco.
At Guantanamo Bay, military hearings have begun for 14 men once held at secret CIA prisons. A panel of three military officers will decide whether the men should continue to be held as enemy combatants. Under the rules of the tribunal, the panel can base its decision on secret evidence that neither the captive nor the media is allowed to see. The detained men are not allowed to have attorneys during the hearings. Reporters have also been barred from the proceedings.
A United Nations human rights mission has accused Sudan’s government of orchestrating and taking part in international crimes in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed over the past four years. The report from the U.N. Human Rights Council said, “The situation is characterized by gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law.”
In Zimbabwe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of his supporters were arrested on Sunday as riot police stopped a planned mass protest. Tsvangirai’s lawyer said he has been badly beaten by police. Police in Zimbabwe also shot and killed one activist from the Movement for Democratic Change.
In other news from Africa, a Somalian human rights group is estimating more than 1,700 civilians have been killed and another 2,000 wounded in Somalia over the past year.
In Washington state, 23 antiwar activists were arrested on Sunday at the Port of Tacoma as they tried to block the military from shipping Stryker armored vehicles to Iraq. Another three people were arrested on Friday.
Here in New York, the Granny Peace Brigade has begun a six-day protest in Times Square. The antiwar group made up mostly of grandmothers plans to read the names of the Americans and Iraqis that have died since the war began four years ago on March 19.
Molly Klopot, 88-year-old organizer: “These are wasteless, awful deaths of young people, of children, of women, all over the world. This is just not the United States who suffered. How many thousands have been killed in Iraq? Look what we’ve done to that country. So it’s very important, I think, that we give credence to the symbol that they represent of the useless death and destruction that this war has brought upon the world.”
And in other news from New York, the death toll from last week’s house fire in the Bronx house has reached 10. All of the victims were immigrants from Mali, most were children. They are being buried today in New Jersey. It was the deadliest fire in New York — besides the attack on the World Trade Center — in nearly 20 years.