At least 17 people have been killed in a storm carrying powerful tornadoes through the South and Midwest. Seven have died in Alabama, with another nine deaths reported in Georgia.
The Army has fired the general in charge of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Major General George Weightman’s dismissal comes more than a week into the fallout over the disclosure the Army’s top medical facility is in a state of major decay. Weightman had headed Walter Reed for only six months. The Army’s current surgeon general, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, will serve as a temporary replacement. Kiley is also a former commander of Walter Reed. His appointment has raised questions amid complaints he was made aware of the problems at Walter Reed more than three years ago but failed to make any improvements.
On Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to four of the eight U.S. attorneys who lost their jobs in a wave of dismissals from the Bush administration. The subpoenas come as part of an investigation into whether the attorneys were forced out for political reasons. The House move marks the Democrats’ first major use of their new subpoena authority. The four prosecutors have been called to appear before a hearing next Tuesday.
In Iraq, 18 government workers and soldiers have been kidnapped in what’s being called a retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated police. Meanwhile in Baghdad, U.S. troops are continuing a series of raids in Shiite areas.
Shiite leader Sayyid Abbas: “We will demonstrate, men, women and children, demanding the withdrawal of the occupiers from Iraq. As long as the occupiers are in Iraq, they will destroy Islam and Iraq. We will die, we will give everything we have, just for the sake of letting the occupiers to withdraw from Iraq.”
Meanwhile, the last major British charity in Iraq has announced it’s pulled out its entire staff and ended its presence there. Save the Children UK had been in Iraq since the first Gulf War. The group says the security situation has made it impossible to continue operations. Save the Children says it can’t protect staff members nor reach the Iraqi children it wants to help.
The Pakistani government says it’s arrested a former Taliban defense minister and key insurgent leader. The man, Mullah Obaidullah, would be the most senior Taliban member to be captured since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The arrest comes amid new tensions over the Bush administration’s call on Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda fighters. On Thursday, Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador, Mahmud Ali Durrani, was asked if increasing pressure and threatened aid cuts could bring down Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani: “I don’t know; possibly, it could bring him down. It could destabilize the whole country. It could cause mega-problems there. That is possible.”
Back in the United States, the House has passed a bill that would make it easier for workers to join unions. The Employee Free Choice Act would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. President Bush has promised to veto the bill, while Senate Republicans say they will filibuster.
President Bush paid a visit to the Gulf Coast Thursday, visiting towns in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was his first trip to areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in six months.
The Pentagon has announced David Hicks will be the first Guantanamo prisoner tried under the new U.S. law authorizing military trials of alleged enemy combatants. Hicks is an Australian citizen accused of helping the Taliban fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, there is more news from the Jose Padilla hearings. Military prosecutors are claiming a video recording of Padilla’s last interrogation at a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina has been lost. Defense lawyers had requested the video in an effort to prove Padilla’s harsh treatment and confinement has helped cause serious psychological damage, making him unfit for trial. A judge rejected the defense argument on Wednesday. A trial is set to begin in two weeks.
A new poll from The New York Times and CBS News shows continued support in this country for universal healthcare. Fifty-five percent of Americans say universal access to health insurance is the nation’s top domestic priority. Sixty percent say they would pay more taxes if that would mean guaranteed insurance for everyone. Eighty percent say granting universal access is more important than extending President Bush’s tax cuts.
In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner has announced his government will reject any involvement of the International Monetary Fund in Argentina’s debt payment. Kirchner made the comments during his state of the union address.
Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner: “In the Paris Club they tell us: 'You must have an agreement with the International (Monetary) Fund to be able to pay the debt.' We say to them: ’Sirs, we are sovereign. We want to pay the debt, but no way in hell are we going to make an agreement again with the IMF.”
The IMF helped push through a series of economic policies that many believe helped bring Argentina’s economy to collapse in 2001.
The Bush administration is vowing to continue with its controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe regardless of approval from NATO allies. Under the plan, Poland would host a battery of up to 10 ballistic missiles while the Czech Republic would host a radar facility. The proposals have set off protests across Europe. On Thursday, Missile Defense Agency director, Lt. General Henry Obering, said the U.S. has other alternatives if current plans are rejected.
Missile Defense Agency director, Lt. General Henry Obering: “We are still in discussions with the United Kingdom. They are participants in our program and have been for quite a while. The door is not closed on that in terms of those discussions. We are certainly still talking to the United Kingdom. But the Czech Republic and Poland are the optimum locations for this. If for some reason, but we have every reason to believe that these discussions will be successful; but if for some reasons they are not, there are other alternatives we can go to; but they are not the optimum.”
In Lebanon, a Belgian physician who survived a lengthy kidnapping in Lebanon two decades ago has returned to bring attention to the effects of Israel’s use of cluster bombs. The doctor, Jan Cools, spent 13 months in captivity beginning in 1988. On Thursday, Cools called for a cluster ban and said Israel should compensate Lebanon for dropping hundreds of thousands of cluster bomblets during its attack last year.
Jan Cools: “I think that it is a good thing that the mines will be cleared, nobody would argue with that, and the Belgians are quite good at doing that. And the question can be asked: Who is going to pay for all this? This is one of the claims that we put forward. We think that it is up to the Israelis to pay for the cost of clearing the cluster bombs. We can also ask Israel to pay the money to reconstruct Lebanon.”
The Iranian government has announced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Saudi Arabia Saturday for a rare meeting with King Abdullah. It will be Ahmadinejad’s first state visit to Saudi Arabia amid a time of increasing tensions with the U.S. Meanwhile, in Madrid Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki renewed calls for negotiations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki: “We should be allowed back to the negotiating table to put forward our arguments before the media and the people. The U.S. reasoning that they can have nuclear weapons and others can’t have nuclear energy is not valid.”
And former Republican Congressmember Bob Ney has reported to prison to begin a 30-month sentence. Ney was convicted for lying about his dealings with convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. For years, Ney traded his political influence for gifts, vacations, campaign contributions and, in one case, $50,000 in gambling chips. He will serve his jail term in a minimum security prison in West Virginia.