At least 21 civilians have been killed in a U.S. airstrike on a village in Afghanistan earlier today. The Pentagon says U.S. troops were fighting insurgents in Helmand province. Local residents reported a higher toll of 38 deaths and 20 wounded.
The attack comes one day after the U.S. military paid compensation and apologized to the families of 19 people killed and dozens wounded by U.S. marines in March. The marines fired indiscriminately on a crowd of civilians after a suicide car bomber and gunmen ambushed a U.S. convoy. On Tuesday, U.S. Army Brigade Commander Colonel John Nicholson told victims’ families he is “deeply, deeply ashamed.” Colonel Nicholson says he delivered payments of around $2,000 to the families of the dead. Meanwhile, Afghan lawmakers have passed a bill calling for a halt to all foreign military operations unless they’re coordinated with the local government.
Meanwhile in Iraq, another U.S. airstrike has claimed the lives of seven children. A U.S. helicopter opened fire on a primary school in a village close to the Iranian border. At least three other students were injured with heavy damage to the school building. The U.S. military says it fired after coming under attack from the school grounds.
In other Iraq news, the Pentagon has announced a troop deployment that will maintain the so-called surge at least through the end of this year. Thirty-five thousand replacement soldiers in 10 brigades will begin deploying in August. The announcement comes as a CNN poll has found just over half of Americans oppose President Bush’s veto last week of a bill calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning this fall.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney is in Iraq on an unannounced visit. Cheney met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the first stop of a week-long tour of the Middle East. The trip marks Cheney’s second visit to Iraq as vice president.
A Russian photographer has become the latest journalist killed in Iraq. Dmitry Chebotayev was traveling with U.S. troops in Diyala Sunday when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Chebotayev is the first foreign journalist killed in Iraq this year.
A federal judge has dismissed immigration charges against the anti-Castro Cuban militant and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone said the U.S. government practiced “fraud, deceit, and trickery” when it interviewed Posada about his case. The Venezuelan and Cuban governments have led international calls arguing Posada should be prosecuted for more serious crimes. He’s linked to a series of deadly attacks, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. The Bush administration has refused to extradite him to Cuba or Venezuela. In a statement, the Cuban government said, “The terrorist’s release has been concocted by the White House as compensation for Posada Carriles not to reveal what he knows, not to talk about the countless secrets he keeps on his protracted period as an agent of the US special services.”
In New Jersey, six people have been arrested on allegations of plotting to attack the U.S. military base at Fort Dix. Prosecutors say the accused monitored the base and planned to use rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie: “Through the amazing efforts of these law enforcement officers, we were able to infiltrate, cooperating witnesses into this terror cell, to be able to give us more information and to allow us to effectively surveil their conduct over the last 16 months. These people were in possession of numerous jihadist videos. They had possession of the video of the last will and testament of two of the 19 hijackers from September 11. They had video of Osama bin Laden calling Muslims to jihad. They also showed videos to each other of armed attacks and killing of United States military personnel around the world.”
Four of the suspects were born in the former Yugoslavia, another in Jordan and the other in Turkey. The FBI says there is no evidence linking them to al-Qaeda.
In Northern Ireland, leaders of the main Protestant and Catholic parties were sworn in Tuesday as ministers in a historic power-sharing government. A deal was reached between the two sides in March.
Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader and new deputy first minister: “I think what the people are going to witness today is not hype but history. And what we’re going to see today is one of the mightiest leaps forward that this process has seen in almost 15 years.”
In Mexico, 11 protesters arrested during President Bush’s visit to the Yucatan city of Merida have been released after nearly two months in jail. The 11 were released on condition they renounce charges of torture and abuse in police custody. Eight protesters remain behind bars.
In Florida, eight former prison guards have been indicted on charges of abusing prisoners at the Hendry Correctional Institution in the Everglades. Prison officials say the guards beat prisoners and forced them into dehumanizing behavior — including cleaning toilets with their tongues.
In news from Washington, the Senate has killed an effort that would have allowed consumers to buy imported prescription drugs at significantly lower costs. The Senate voted 49 to 40 to impose safety standards government officials say they cannot meet. Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana said, “Once again the big drug companies have proved that they are the most powerful and best financed lobby in Washington.”
In education news, the top government official overseeing student loans has stepped down amid mounting controversy over her agency’s ties to marketers and lenders. Theresa Shaw’s resignation as head of the Office of Federal Student Aid comes as lawmakers have opened probes into the personal and financial ties between industry, university and government officials. The Education Department admitted last month companies may have improperly mined a national database of student borrowers to obtain marketing information.
And in healthcare news, a new study shows U.S. hospitals are charging uninsured patients two-and-a-half times more than patients with health insurance. The gap has steadily increased over the last two decades but has seen an even sharper jump since the Bush administration took office. The study appeared in the medical journal Health Affairs.