In a major victory for the Bush administration, Democrats have officially abandoned their effort to include a nonbinding timetable for withdrawal from Iraq in the war spending bill. On Tuesday, Democrats said they would accept a Republican plan to fund the war through the end of September. The measure would also establish benchmarks for the Iraqi government. The Democrats made the concession after President Bush vetoed an earlier bill that included a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Democrats say they do not have enough votes to override a veto and want to avoid accusations of denying funding for U.S. troops. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she may even vote against the bill because it doesn’t include a timeline. As many as 120 Democrats are also expected to oppose the bill. Democratic leaders plan to divide the measure into two votes so that domestic spending is separated from war voting. The domestic provisions include a federal increase in the minimum wage. In a statement, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said: “There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action.”
Meanwhile, the Hearst news bureau is reporting the Pentagon is quietly planning to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year. A new deployment order shows plans are in place to boost the number of combat troops from 52,000 to 98,000. With support troops included, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could top 200,000 by the end of the year.
Thousands of people have fled a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where a ceasefire between Lebanese troops and Islamic militants has taken hold. Residents have been trapped as Lebanese forces shelled the Nahr al-Bared camp in a battle with the group Fatah al-Islam. At least 80 people have died, with dozens more wounded since Sunday. An unknown number of civilians are feared buried beneath the rubble. A U.N. relief convoy was forced to turn back after coming under fire. The situation in the camp is said to be dire and worsening.
Unidentified resident: “We need water. We need to eat. Look at the children. Please, God keep you. Our house was destroyed. Have mercy on us. May God have mercy on you.”
In the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued to voice support for the Lebanese government.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “The Siniora government is fighting against a very tough extremist foe. But Lebanon is doing the right thing to try to protect its population, to assert its sovereignty, and so we are very supportive of the Siniora government and what it is trying to do.”
Meanwhile, in the Occupied Territories, a truce between the two main Palestinian factions continues to hold after days of fighting that left at least 50 people dead. Israel has continued to carry out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, several people were injured in an Israeli attack on northern Gaza. Children were reported among the wounded. Around two dozen Palestinians were also detained in Israeli raids on the West Bank.
The Senate has rejected the first major challenge to the bipartisan immigration deal reached last week. On Tuesday, senators voted down an amendment that would have eliminated a controversial guest worker program. The program would grant temporary residence to up to 600,000 foreign workers but bar them from the U.S. at the end of their permits. Critics say the plan would decrease wages and create a new underclass of workers. Meanwhile in Mexico, workers’ rights advocates criticized the new legislation.
Human rights activist Edgar Cortez: “The conditions that caused migration are still there. Migration will continue to exist. More persons will consider that option, and for them, the conditions will be worse, a more restrictive policy by the U.S. that could possibly result in more human rights violations, more risks and costs.”
The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee are accusing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of “consistent stonewalling and misdirection” about the administration’s warrantless spy program. On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania set a deadline of June 5 for Gonzales to turn over key documents. The senators say they are prepared block legislation re-authorizing the spy program if Gonzales fails to comply. Meanwhile, Gonzales remains under scrutiny for his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
Former Gonzales aide and White House liaison Monica Goodling is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee later today.
ABC News is reporting the White House has approved a covert CIA program to destabilize the Iranian government. The plan is said to include a coordinated effort of propaganda, disinformation and interference with Iran’s currency and financial dealings.
The news comes as the U.S. is engaging in its largest daytime assembly of warships in the Gulf since the invasion of Iraq. Earlier today nine U.S. warships carrying 17,000 servicemembers entered the waters off Iran’s coast.
Family, friends and colleagues of a prominent American scholar imprisoned in Iran are appealing for her release. Haleh Esfandiari was jailed on May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest. She is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Esfandiari is a dual U.S. and Iranian citizen. She went to Iran last year to take care of her 93-year-old mother. This is former congressmember and Wilson Center director Lee Hamilton.
Lee Hamilton: “The Wilson Center’s plea to the Iranian government is simple: Let Haleh go. Let her return to her husband, her family and her work.”
In Russia, a former KGB agent has denied British allegations of murdering the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. Britain is demanding the extradition of Andrey Lugovoy for Litvinenko’s poisoning death. On Tuesday, Lugovoy proclaimed his innocence.
Andrey Lugovoy: “I want to stress once again that I don’t consider myself guilty. Moreover, I find myself a victim. Myself and my family members came under radioactive attack while in Britain. I have already said this once, and I am repeating it firmly and with all responsibility: I find the charges inadequate and groundless.”
The British government said Andrey Lugovoy met with Litvinenko at a London hotel only hours before Litvinenko became ill with polonium-210 poisoning. Litvinenko was a former spy and prominent critic of the Russian government.
British prosecutor Ken McDonald: “I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrey Lugovoy with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, by deliberate poisoning. I have further concluded that the prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest. In those circumstances, I have instructed CPS lawyers to take immediate steps to seek the early extradition of Andrey Lugovoy from Russia to the United Kingdom, so that he may be charged here with murder and brought swiftly before a court in London to be prosecuted for this extraordinarily grave crime.”
The Russian prosecutor-general’s office says it won’t turn Lugovoy over to Britain to be tried.
In Peru, dozens of countries are meeting in Lima this week to sign a declaration banning the use of cluster bombs. The declaration came out of a conference in Norway earlier this year. The U.S. is among several leading nations that have refused to attend. This is Cluster Munitions Coalition coordinator Thomas Nash.
Thomas Nash: “We think it’s a shame that countries like Brazil, the U.S., China and Russia don’t come to the conference. They are countries that produce and use cluster bombs. But I hope this process has an influence on them.”
And in military news, a Marine officer says he’s being punished for publishing an editorial supporting the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Captain Josh Gibbs published the article in the Marine Corps Times last month. Just one week later, Gibbs was told he was being relieved of duty due to a loss of confidence from his commanding officers. Gibbs will be reassigned to a U.S. base in Japan, after which he plans to end his service. He said: “I’m standing up for what I think is right. … If I want to make a change, I need to be someplace else.”