A newly declassified report from the Pentagon’s inspector general concludes that Saddam Hussein was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq despite claims by the Bush administration. The Pentagon’s report is based in part on captured Iraqi documents and interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides. The declassified report reveals that the CIA had concluded as early as June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials. However, top Bush administration officials ignored the CIA’s findings. In September 2002, Pentagon official Douglas Feith asserted that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was “mature” and “symbiotic.” Feith’s comments came in a briefing to Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis Scooter Libby. Feith also suggested that Iraq might have been involved in 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Despite the Pentagon’s new report, Vice President Cheney is still claiming there were ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He appeared on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program yesterday and claimed that al-Qaeda was operating inside Iraq before the U.S. invasion.
NBC News is reporting the Pentagon is preparing to send an additional 12,000 National Guard soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held a news conference on Thursday, but he did not mention the Guard deployment. Earlier this year, Gates revised Pentagon regulations to authorize more frequent Guard deployments to take some of the burden off the Army.
In Iraq, eight U.S. soldiers and four British troops have died over the past two days in what has been described as one of the bloodiest 48-hour periods for coalition forces in recent months. On Thursday, at least 49 Iraqis were also killed in shootings, bombings and mortar attacks across the country. Earlier today, at least 27 people were killed in a suicide bombing in the city of Ramadi. British Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested yesterday’s attack on British troops could have been carried out by elements linked to Iran.
Tony Blair: “Now it is far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists who are backed by any elements of the Iranian regime. So I make no allegations with respect to that particular incident, but the general picture, as I’ve said before, is that there are elements at least of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq.”
In Baghdad, police have found the body of a famous television anchor named Khamail Khalaf. She was kidnapped two days ago. A truck bomb also exploded outside a Sunni TV station in Baghdad. The blast took the station off the air and killed the station’s assistant director. Twelve others were wounded.
The Christian Science Monitor is reporting the number of Iraqis being detained by the United States is skyrocketing. Under the new Baghdad security plan, the U.S. is apprehending thousands of Iraqis. Before the beginning of so-called surge, the U.S. was holding 13,000 Iraqis. Now 18,000 Iraqis are being held. And Army General David Petraeus is making plans to be able to hold up to 40,000 Iraqis in coming months. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. will hold many of these detainees indefinitely. To help staff the expanding jails, the Pentagon announced on Monday the deployment of more than 2,000 additional U.S. military police to Iraq.
The British TV network Sky News has revealed new information about the 15 freed British sailors and marines who were held by Iran. Days before the sailors were seized by Iran, the captain of the ship told Sky News that part of his team’s mission in the Persian Gulf was to gather intelligence on the Iranians. Sky News withheld the information until the release of the sailors. British Defense Secretary Des Browne defended the intelligence operation. Browne said it was important to gather intelligence to “keep our people safe.”
A new United Nations report on climate change warns that global warming could cause more shortages of food in Africa, more severe weather events in Europe and the United States, the decimation of coral reefs and the disappearance of the ice caps. The report is being released today at a major conference on global warming in Brussels. Experts said the poorest people in the world will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change.
Australian scientist Roger Jones: “The two biggest areas of risk for impacts are the biodiversity and water. And amongst that, we see lots of other vulnerabilities. Some low-lying areas are vulnerable to sea level rise and to extreme events, of course. And in particular, drought and fire, I think, are some of the two biggest risks that we see.”
The report was written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which groups the work of 2,500 scientists from the around the world.
U.N. Under-Secretary General Achim Steiner: “I think we today know that the series of impacts that are associated with climate change cannot be isolated in terms of one phenomenon or another. A warmer winter may be one phenomenon that we will observe, but in fact, also in the richer countries in Europe and North America, we will see other effects that are associated with this — more extreme weather events, floods … These are all impacts that are part of the reality of living with climate change.”
A new study in the journal Science is predicting rising temperatures here in this country will likely result in a permanent drought throughout Arizona and the Southwest by the year 2050. Scientists say the drought could result in conditions not seen since the 1930s Dust Bowl. Back in Brussels, the World Wildlife Fund called for governments to take action to stop global warming. This is Hans Verolme, the director of the WWF’s global climate change program.
Hans Verolme: “So what we are looking for and what we are trying to secure is a commitment to reduce emissions from the rich 30 percent by 2020. And we were very encouraged a few weeks ago when the European heads of state reached a tentative agreement that, if the rest of the world does their fair share, Europe will do what is necessary — that is, a minus 30 percent reduction by 2020.”
Officials in Florida have voted to make it possible for ex-felons in the state to regain their voting and other civil rights after completing their sentences. Over 950,000 residents of Florida have been denied the right to vote because of past felony convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the state for failing to automatically restore the voting rights of all ex-offenders. People who previously completed sentences will have to apply on their own. The ACLU said the new rules are needlessly complex and will only confuse and deter potential applicants.
Amnesty International says conditions at Guantanamo Bay are deteriorating. The group estimates 80 percent of detainees are now being held in solitary confinement. In December, the U.S. opened a new facility at the base known as Camp 6 where detainees are held in conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation. Detainees are reportedly confined for 22 hours a day in windowless cells where they are almost completely cut off from human contact. Detainees are often only offered exercise at night and may not see daylight for days at a time. Amnesty says even men who have been cleared for release are being held in isolation.
The Guardian newspaper reports the Bush administration has admitted openly for the first time that it is actively working to undermine Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. A new U.S. State Department report acknowledged that the U.S. is supporting opposition politicians in the country and others critical of Mugabe. The State Department also admitted sponsoring events aimed at “discrediting” statements made by Mugabe’s government. Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since 1980 when it became an independent nation.
In New York, a jazz musician has pleaded guilty in a controversial terrorism case. Tarik Shah, who has played bass with Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter and others, was arrested two years ago following an undercover FBI sting operation. Prosecutors accused Shah of plotting to teach martial arts to would-be al-Qaeda operatives. The case was based on statements he made to a government informer. If Shah had been found guilty by a jury, he could have faced up to 30 years in prison even though the government admits that he had never committed any violent acts. On Wednesday, after 23 months in solitary confinement, Shah accepted an offer by the government to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. In exchange, he will receive a sentence of no more than 15 years.
The Associated Press has reportedly fired a Mexican correspondent named Rebeca Romero due to her pro-government bias in her coverage of last year’s populist uprising in Oaxaca. This according to a report on the website Narco News. In January, Narco News revealed that Romero had violated the AP’s code of ethics by accepting payments from the Oaxacan state government for advertisements on her personal website. Before her stint at the Associated Press, Romero had worked as a press secretary for the Mexican federal attorney general. For much of the conflict in Oaxaca, U.S. newspapers relied solely on Associated Press articles written by Romero. A review of Romero’s coverage by Narco News showed a consistent pattern of sensationalizing protester violence while sanitizing state violence through misreporting. Romero never published a single article that attempted to explain the protesters’ motivations.
A play featuring the writings of the late American peace activist Rachel Corrie has been silenced for the third time in just over a year. The Mosaic Theatre in Miami has announced it has cancelled “My Name is Rachel Corrie” after protests from some of the theater’s subscribers and outside individuals. Corrie was the 23-year-old American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003. Last year, both the New York Theatre Workshop and the Canadian theater company CanStage pulled productions of the play.
A prominent Israeli historian has announced he is moving to Britain because he has found it increasingly difficult to keep living in Israel. Ilan Pappe is a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa and a vocal critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Pappe says he receives threatening phones call every day and that there have been attempts to expel him from the university. In Britain, Pappe will teach at Exeter University.
Meanwhile, here in this country, one of academia’s most prominent critics of Israel — Norman Finkelstein — is facing an uphill battle to receive tenure at DePaul University, where he has taught for six years. His tenure has been approved at the departmental and college level, but the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has opposed it. A final decision is expected to be made by May. Finkelstein has accused Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz of being responsible for leading the effort to deny him tenure. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Dershowitz admitted that he had sent a letter to DePaul faculty members lobbying against Finkelstein’s tenure.