On Capitol Hill, the House voted Friday to give President Bush $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while requiring combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by September 2008. The vote was 218 to 212.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq. It took one big giant step in that direction: It voted not to give a blank check to an open-ended commitment to a war without end to the president of the United States and, yes, to begin the end of the war and deployment of our troops.”
On Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at House Democrats. Cheney said, “They’re not supporting the troops. They’re undermining them.” President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
President Bush: “Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq. They set rigid restrictions that will require an army of lawyers to interpret. They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal without regard for conditions on the ground.”
A total of 14 Democrats voted against the bill, including eight who oppose any more funding of the war. The eight antiwar Democrats were Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson and Barbara Lee, all of California, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, John Lewis of Georgia, Mike McNulty of New York and Mike Michaud of Maine. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to secure passage of the spending bill because she received the support of many Democrats who had voted against previous supplemental spending measures. The Senate is taking up a similar spending bill this week.
In news from Iraq, The New York Times is reporting that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad held secret talks last year with Sunni militants. He is the first American official to publicly acknowledge holding such talks. Included in the discussions were self-identified representatives of the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Khalilzad declined to give details on the meetings.
In other news from the region, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Salam al-Zubayi, has underwent surgery for stomach and shoulder wounds. He was injured on Friday in a suicide bombing near his house. The bomber was reportedly a distant relative of al-Zubayi.
The British government is demanding Iran release 15 British sailors and marines captured by Iran on Friday in the Persian Gulf. Iran says that the 14 men and one woman were seized after crossing into Iranian waters to search an Indian vessel. British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected Iran’s claim.
Tony Blair: “This is a very serious situation, and there is no doubt at all that these people were taken from a boat in Iraqi water. It simply is not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters.”
Iran says the sailors could be charged with illegally entering Iranian waters.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved new sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the sanctions and said Iran would limit cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
The New York Times has revealed that undercover New York City police officers traveled around the country, Canada and Europe to spy on protesters planning to attend the 2004 Republican National Convention. The city set up an “R.N.C. Intelligence Squad” and sent undercover officers to attend meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
The Canadian pet food company Menu Foods has expanded its recall of tainted cat and dog food that has killed at least 14 pets. The company said store owners should remove all of its wet food products regardless of the production date, because some of the food is tainted with rat poison. The company manufacturers and distributes more than 90 brands of pet food. A complete list can be found at menufoods.com.
Newly released Justice Department documents show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales indicates that he lied about his involvement in the recent dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. Two weeks ago, Gonzales said, “I was not involved in seeing any memos, [and] was not involved in any discussion about what was going on.” However, the documents reveal that on Nov. 27 Gonzales met with five other officials from the Justice Department and signed off on a plan to fire the prosecutors.
President Bush’s former deputy secretary of the interior, Steven Griles, has pleaded guilty to lying about his relationship with Republican Jack Abramoff. Griles is the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Abramoff’s clients paid more than $500,000 to a nonprofit environmental group run by Griles’ girlfriend, Italia Federici, who was a former aide to then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. Griles could have faced up to a five-year prison term, but federal prosecutors said they will only recommend a 10-month sentence. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are recommending Jack Abramoff’s prison sentence be reduced. He is scheduled for release in 2011, but prosecutors are pushing for an earlier release because he is cooperating with investigators.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has found a record 64 percent of the country now believes the Iraq War was not worth fighting. The same poll put President Bush’s approval rating at just 36 percent. Bush hasn’t had a majority approval in more than two years — the longest run without majority support for any president since Harry Truman in the early 1950s.
The Washington Post is reporting the size of the government database on terrorism suspects has quadrupled in size over the past four years. Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world are fed into the database known as TIDE — for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. This includes field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip. The database is used to decide what names to put on watchlists and no-fly lists. This marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it.
Ban Ki-moon visited the West Bank on Saturday for the first time since he became the secretary-general of the United Nations. He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and toured a Palestinian refugee camp. He also criticized Israel for building a 450-mile wall through the West Bank.
Ban Ki-moon: “This is very sad and tragic to see many people suffering from this construction of walls, depriving the opportunities for living, basic living, education and health services.”
Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the West Bank came just days after a U.N. human rights envoy likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to “apartheid.” The South African attorney John Dugard said restrictions on movement and separate residential areas gave a sense of “deja vu” to anyone with experience of apartheid in South Africa.
Here in this country, jailed Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian has ended his 60-day hunger strike at the urging of his family. Over the past two months, Al-Arian lost 53 pounds and became too weak to walk. Al-Arian remains in jail despite a jury’s failure over a year ago to return a single guilty verdict on any of the 17 charges brought against him. The U.S. government had accused him of being a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He eventually signed a plea deal with the government in exchange for being released and deported. He was scheduled to be released in April. But in January a judge sentenced him to an additional 18 months in jail for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury. On Friday, a federal appeals court affirmed that judge’s decision.
In Northern Ireland, the main Protestant and Catholic parties have agreed to set up an historic power-sharing government in the province on May 8. The announcement came after an unprecedented face-to-face meeting between Ian Paisley, the hardline leader of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein.
In news from Africa, The Guardian reports Western governments are working to split Zimbabwe’s ruling party in an attempt to topple Robert Mugabe’s government. European and U.S. officials have been meeting with Zimbabwe’s former army chief, Solomon Mujuru, who is part of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF ruling party. According to The Guardian, Mujuru’s emissaries have been in talks with the main faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. They are talking about creating an interim power-sharing government that would sideline Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it became independent in 1980. On Friday, Mugabe vowed to survive any Western attempt to dislodge him from power.
Robert Mugabe: “Nothing frightens me, not even little fellows like Bush and Blair. I have seen it all. I don’t fear any suffering or any big struggle of any kind.”
Pressure on Mugabe is also being applied within the religious community in Zimbabwe. Last week Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube called for mass protests against the government.
Pius Ncube: “Human rights are God-given, and the government is our property. They ought to be answerable to us, not that they control us and hold us, hold us so tight that we can’t move. They’ve no right to do it.”
On Sunday, Africans marked the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at a ceremony at a former slave fort at Elmina in Ghana. Elmina was sub-Saharan Africa’s first permanent slave trading post. South African musician Hugh Masekela spoke at the ceremony.
Hugh Masekela: “If you look at Africans all over the world in any society, whether it’s Brazil, Colombia, United States, the Caribbean, we live in squalor. So the state of slavery from a dungeon point of view hasn’t changed. And it’s very important for us to realize that the impact of slavery hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s getting worse.”
Meanwhile, thousands of people marched in London on Saturday to mark the anniversary, as well. Prime Minister Tony Blair released a statement by video, but he declined to give a formal apology for Britain’s role in the slave trade.
Tony Blair: “It is an opportunity also for the United Kingdom to express our deep sorrow and regret for our nation’s role in the slave trade and for the unbearable suffering, individually and collectively, that it caused.”
While Britain ended its role in the slave trade in 1807, slavery remained legal in the United States for another six decades.
The city commissioners of Largo, Florida, have voted to fire Largo’s city manager, Steve Stanton, a month after it was revealed he was a transsexual and that he planned to live as a woman and eventually pursue a sex-change operation. On Friday night, hundreds of supporters of Stanton gathered in Largo to urge the city commissioners to reconsider. Members of Equality Florida wore pink T-shirts that read “Don’t Discriminate.” Stanton had served as Largo’s city manager for 14 years. City commissioners claimed the vote was because of his management style — not his lifestyle.
Protests are continuing across the country against the war in Iraq. In Sacramento, seven activists were arrested on Thursday in the office of Democratic Congresswoman Doris Matsui as they attempted to read the names of people killed during the Iraq War and occupation. The activists had all taken part in a 52-day peace-in at Matsui’s office. The action began on Jan. 8 and ended on Thursday. The protest has been described as the longest occupation of a congressional office in U.S. history. In New York, police arrested five members of Peace Action Staten Island on Friday while they were occupying the office of Republican Congressman Vito Fossella.