The United Nations has renewed criticism of the Iraqi government for refusing to disclose figures on civilian casualties amidst what it calls “a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis.” The U.N. mission in Iraq says Iraqi officials have turned down repeated requests for numbers on the civilian toll so far this year. No reasons were given. The U.N. did release figures showing at least 3,000 people have been arrested since the launch of the security crackdown on Baghdad two months ago. Overall some 37,000 people are detained in U.S. and Iraqi prisons. Meanwhile, 54 percent of Iraqis are living on less than one dollar a day.
Meanwhile in Washington, the White House continues to trade barbs with Democratic leaders over the war-funding bill calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The measure says U.S. troops should begin withdrawing no later than October 1 with a deadline of April of next year. On Tuesday, President Bush accused Democrats of political opportunism.
President Bush: “They know I’m going to veto a bill containing these provisions, and they know that my veto will be sustained. But instead of fashioning a bill I could sign, the Democratic leaders chose to further delay funding our troops, and they choose to make a political statement. That’s their right. But it is wrong for our troops, and it’s wrong for our country.”
The House is set to vote on the bill today, followed by the Senate on Thursday. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on the Bush administration to negotiate.
Sen. Harry Reid: “The president and his people should talk to us. We are legislators. We are people who believe that legislation is the art of compromise. But the president, who has for six years not had to deal with this pesky little thing we have in the Constitution called the legislative branch of government, has to get used to us. We’re here. We’re part of the Constitution.”
An Army Ranger who was with Colonel Patrick Tillman when Tillman was killed by members of his own unit in Afghanistan has revealed he was ordered to keep quiet about what happened. Specialist Bryan O’Neal’s testimony came during a congressional hearing on false information from the Pentagon. Under questioning from House Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman, O’Neal spoke about orders to not tell Tillman’s brother Kevin, who was also serving in Afghanistan.
Specialist Bryan O’Neal: “I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially Kevin, because I worked with him in the platoon. And I knew that him and the family needed to know what had happened. And I was quite appalled that when I was actually able to speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him what happened.”
Rep. Henry Waxman: “You were ordered not to tell him?”
O’Neal: “Roger that, sir. At that time it was by our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bailey.”
Rep. Waxman: “And did he give you a reason or just an order?”
O’Neal: “He basically just said, 'Do not let Kevin know. He is probably in a bad place, knowing his brother is dead.' And he made it known that I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin on it being fratricide.”
Pat Tillman had left a lucrative professional football career to enlist after the 9/11 attacks. The Army had initially claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire while leading troops into battle. The story was widely reported in the media before the military was forced to acknowledge the false claim. Also appearing Tuesday was Patrick Tillman’s brother Kevin.
Kevin Tillman: “Pat was and still is a great man. He was the most wonderful older brother to ever exist. Pat wanted to leave a positive legacy based on his actions, and he did that. But Pat’s death at the hands of his comrades is a terrible tragedy. But the fact that the Army and what appears to be others attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific. The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who is responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them, then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable.”
Meanwhile, the former private Jessica Lynch also testified about the false reporting of her capture and rescue in Iraq. Lynch first gained national headlines when she was captured in the first week of the Iraq invasion.
Jessica Lynch: “At my parents’ home in Wirt County, West Virginia, it was under siege by media, all repeating the story of the little girl 'Rambo' from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said when I was asked that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were legendary.”
In other news from Washington, Democratic Congressmember and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich has introduced a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “Because I believe the vice president’s conduct in office has been destructive to the founding purposes of our nation, today I have introduced House Resolution 333, articles of impeachment of Richard B. Cheney.”
Kucinich says Cheney should be held to account for manipulating the intelligence process and deceiving the public to build support for the invasion of Iraq.
The Reuters news agency is reporting the Pentagon plans to end use of a controversial database that has collected information on several protests and activist groups around the country. The Talon database was intended for use in monitoring threats to U.S. military facilities. But it came under scrutiny after it was revealed it contained intelligence on events including antiwar rallies and meetings challenging the military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Internal Pentagon records show the database contained nearly 3,000 reports on U.S. citizens.
In Russia, around 20,000 people gathered for a public viewing of the coffin of former President Boris Yeltsin ahead of his state funeral set for today. Yeltsin died Monday at the age of 76. Tributes continued to pour in from world leaders.
Former President Bill Clinton: “He stood up for freedom and democracy and openness. He really believed that Russia couldn’t go back to communism or back further to extreme nationalism.”
Critics blame Yeltsin for plunging his country into years of economic and political turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also presided over the military campaign to crush Chechnya’s drive for independence.
Grozny resident Berland Nurdalov: “Yeltsin did nothing good for Chechnya. And I believe that all our losses we suffered and the destruction waged here was all his fault.”
In Nepal, thousands of people marched through the capital Kathmandu to mark the one-year anniversary of the end to King Gyanendra’s absolute rule. Gyanendra was forced to hand over power following a massive popular uprising. At least 22 people were killed and thousands injured during the weeks of protest. Tuesday’s celebration later turned into a protest from pro-democracy activists for a complete end to Nepal’s monarchy.
Lawmakers in Mexico City have passed Mexico’s first law to legalize abortion. Mexico’s capital joins Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guyana as the only places in Latin America and the Carribean where women can have an abortion on demand.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Poland Tuesday to promote an increasingly unpopular plan to base a missile system in Eastern Europe.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “So the world changes in dramatic ways, and what we are talking about here is indivisible security for the United States and for our NATO allies. We would like to extend that umbrella to Russia and partner with Russia and have Russia be with us in this program.”
A recent survey shows nearly 60 percent of Poles oppose hosting the missile system in their country. Opposition has also increased for a second proposed site in the Czech Republic. Sixty-eight percent of Czechs now oppose plans for a U.S. radar station near Prague.
The head of the U.N. refugee agency says the U.N. will increase assistance to refugees in Darfur. Antonio Gunterres spoke Tuesday from a camp in West Darfur.
UNCHR head Antonio Gunterres: “It is our plan to increase our activities in Darfur both in camp management and in protection starting by West Darfur, and we intend to do that as we all know that the situation is very complex there, problems of security that we have witnessed. It is difficult to guarantee the protection of people in such circumstances, and at the same time the camps are a terrible way to live. There is a lot that needs to be done to improve the conditions here.”
The Pentagon has charged a 19-year-old Canadian prisoner at Guantanamo for the 2002 murder of a U.S. soldier. Omar Khadr is believed to be the first person in modern history to face a military commission for alleged crimes committed as a child. Groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the Pentagon to treat him as a child soldier. Khadr’s lawyers have also accused U.S. prison guards of torturing him during his four years at Guantanamo.
In a new warning about the effects of climate change, the World Health Organization says it expects deaths and injuries from climate change to more than double in the next 25 years. The yearly death toll linked to weather patterns is forecast to top 300,000 by the year 2030.
Businessweek magazine is reporting the retail giant Wal-Mart has been recruiting former military and government intelligence officers for its global security office. The job description includes gathering information from “professional contacts” and public data to identify threats to Wal-Mart’s operations. The applicant search follows this month’s disclosure Wal-Mart ran a sophisticated intelligence operation targeting employees, journalists, stockholders and critics.
A group of European astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet to have been found outside our solar system.
Astronomer Michel Mayor: “We have discovered a very low-mass planet. In fact, it is the lowest mass ever discovered. It’s only five times the mass of the Earth. This planet is probably a rocky planet, maybe 50 percent larger than the Earth, very low-mass planet orbiting the star with a period of 13 days.”
The scientists say the planet’s temperatures mean it could support water and possibly life.
And here in New York, a man believed to be the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA testing spoke out last night just one day after he was cleared.
Jerry Miller: “My name is Jerry Miller. The state of Illinois has imprisoned me for 25 years, one year on parole as a registered sex offender. Yesterday I became number 200 person to be exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. The state gave me the number, I know it by heart — N5281. Tonight I’m free!”
Jerry Miller was speaking at a benefit for the Innocence Project, which helped win his freedom after 25 years.