The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have repeated their calls for the extradition of former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles to stand trial for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Posada was scheduled to go on trial in Texas on Friday for immigration fraud, but a U.S. federal judge tossed out the indictment making Posada a free man. On Wednesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque accused the Bush administration of interference.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque: “Posada Carriles being free is not an accident. Posada Carriles is free because there is a plan by the White House, authorized by Bush, to prevent Posada from going to jail.”
Meanwhile, family members of the victims of the airline attack spoke out in Havana.
Odalis Perez, whose father co-piloted the downed plane: “Above all else, we feel a deep indignation, because knowing that one more time the United States government has left Luis Posada Carriles free on the streets with impunity, for us, it is a deep indignation.”
In Iraq, at least 14 people were killed and 87 wounded in a car bombing in the northern Kurdish town of Erbil. The explosion struck a building housing the Interior Ministry. It was the first major attack in the area in more than three years. Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators turned out in Kadhimiya to protest the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney. Iraq was Cheney’s first stop on a week-long Mideast tour.
More details have emerged on the U.S. massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005. On Wednesday, Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz testified he urinated on the dead body of an Iraqi killed by his fellow marines. Sgt. Cruz also said he saw his squad leader shoot down five Iraqi civilians who were trying to surrender. The testimony came in a pretrial hearing for a marine charged for the massacre and the ensuing cover-up.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, the U.S. Embassy has ordered all staff to wear flak jackets and helmets while outdoors in the Green Zone. The order comes following a wave of recent rocket attacks. The Green Zone is one of Iraq’s most heavily guarded areas.
The National Security Archive has released a pre-war memo showing the Pentagon planned to control the Iraqi media three months before the U.S. invasion. In a three-page document, the Pentagon calls for a “Rapid Reaction Media Team,” saying: “Having professional U.S.-trained Iraqi media teams immediately in place to portray a new Iraq (by Iraqis for Iraqis) with hopes for a prosperous, democratic future, will have a profound psychological and political impact on the Iraqi people. … A re-constituted free Iraqi domestic media can serve as a model in the Middle East where so much Arab hate-media are themselves equivalent to weapons of mass destruction.”
Eleven House Republicans have warned President Bush the Iraq War is risking the Republican Party’s future and that he cannot count on their open-ended support. In a meeting along with top White House officials Tuesday, the congressmembers presented Bush with “dismal” polling numbers showing growing opposition to the war.
In other Iraq news, House Democrats say they plan to introduce a measure that would increase the number of Iraqi refugees allowed in the United States. The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act would allow an additional 20,000 Iraqi refugees over the next two years with another 15,000 families eligible for “special immigrant status” for each of the next four years.
In Britain, two men have been found guilty for leaking a memo detailing a conversation in which President Bush reportedly tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair he wants to bomb the Doha headquarters of the Arabic television network Al Jazeera. David Keogh, a former civil servant, and Leo O’Connor, a former parliamentary researcher, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act. Most of the trial was held in secret with reporters barred from the proceedings. Bush and Blair’s meeting was recorded by Blair’s adviser on foreign affairs. The memo came with a note reading, “This must not be copied further and must only be seen by those with real need to know.”
Meanwhile, in breaking news, Blair has announced he will step down as prime minister at the end of next month after a decade in office.
In the Occupied Territories, Israeli troops beat dozens of Israeli peace activists protesting a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron. The group had come to help local Palestinians place ropes around large stones to remove them from blocking a main road. They were able to move one stone before Israeli troops arrived on the scene. This is Israeli activist Ben, who did not give his last name.
Israeli peace activist Ben: “He knows I’m Israeli, but he doesn’t care. He started hitting people. He hit my friend, and he’s arrested now, and then he came and hit me really strong in my lung. Nothing, we were just standing there, and he started hitting people. He was telling us to go back, and he just jumped on us, and he hit me with the barrel of the gun.”
The protest comes as the World Bank has issued harsh criticism of Israel’s system of closures and checkpoints in the Occupied Territories. In a new report, the World Bank says Israel’s hold over the West Bank is preventing a revival of the Palestinian economy and harming Israel’s security. The report says Palestinian freedom of movement is the exception and not the rule, hampered by a near 50 percent increase in roadblocks over the last two years.
In Germany, police have carried out a mass crackdown on activists ahead of next month’s gathering of world leaders at the G8 summit. More than 900 police officials targeted at least 40 sites across six states. Several people were arrested. Police say they were targeting protesters planning violent attacks. In Hamburg, demonstrators poured into the streets following a raid on a local youth center. Police walled off the center with barricades and used water cannons to disperse the crowds. Officials have meanwhile erected a steel wall topped with razor wire around the resort town where leaders will meet. More than 100,000 people are expected to turn out for a protest that will be confined to a town 20 miles away.
Back in the United States, President Bush toured the Kansas town of Greensburg Wednesday, days after a tornado that killed 10 people. The president faced continued criticism recovery efforts have been hampered because much of Kansas National Guard personnel and equipment is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kansas lacks about half the large equipment it could use for recovery efforts and debris removal, including dump trucks and front loaders. President Bush said he could offer this help.
President Bush: “Our role as government officials is to work with the state and local folks to get whatever help is appropriate here, whatever help is in the law to be here as quickly as possible. My mission today though is to lift people’s spirits as best as I possibly can, to hopefully touch somebody’s soul.”
President Bush was accompanied by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Governor Sebelius said another major incident needing Guard support would force her into “a terrible choice” of who to help. She said, “After four years (of war), there’s no question that, year after year, guard supplies are depleted not just in Kansas but all over the country.”
The governor’s comments came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted National Guard equipment levels are at their lowest since the 9/11 attacks. Appearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Gates said National Guard members have only 56 percent of their required equipment.
A coalition of religious groups has launched a campaign to offer sanctuary to immigrant families who risk being seperated under the threat of deportation. Members of the “New Sanctuary Movement” say they will open their churches, mosques and synagogues to shelter families facing deportation orders. At least six congregations in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and San Diego will harbor one family each.
A former U.S. attorney has added his name to the list of eight federal prosecutors whose dismissals have led to a congressional probe. Former Kansas City attorney Todd Graves says he was asked to step down in January of last year — months before the other prosecutors were let go. The disclosure comes ahead of today’s second Capitol Hill appearance for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
And the Associated Press is reporting the Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation for taking ailing 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for medical treatment. Moore filmed the trip for his upcoming documentary about the U.S. healthcare system called “Sicko.” The Treasury Department is looking into whether Moore violated U.S. embargo laws against Cuba. A source close to Moore says Moore has placed a copy of the film in a “safe house” outside the U.S. to protect it from possible government interference.