The Bush administration has begun a new offensive to stave off more Republican defections on the Iraq War. On Tuesday, several Bush administration officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged lawmakers to hold off on any votes on Iraq until September. At least four Republicans have broken with the White House in recent weeks. The move came as the Senate opened debate on a series of measures including a new timetable for withdrawal. Speaking in Ohio, President Bush urged lawmakers for more time.
President Bush: “I welcome a good, honest debate about the consequences of failure, the consequences of success and this war. But I believe it is in this nation’s interest to give the commander a chance to fully implement his operations, and I believe Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he is putting in place before they make any decisions.”
Bush went on to repeat the administration’s linkage of the 9/11 attacks to Iraq, saying the war in Iraq is a fight against “the same people that attacked us on September the 11th.” One option before the Senate would see a troop withdrawal begin within the next three months. This is the bill’s co-sponsor Senator Carl Levin.
Sen. Carl Levin: “The open-ended occupation of a Muslim country by the West has played right into the hands of al-Qaeda, and we need to bring it to a responsible end.”
But questions are being raised about how far some Democrat proposals could go. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid admitted Tuesday his plan could still leave “tens of thousands of troops in Iraq.”
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid: “As President Bush said, and I will quote him, ’We’ll leave that to the military commanders.’ All I know is we will draw down significantly from the 160,000 troops who are there. Whether it’s going to be 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, I really don’t know. There are numbers that I have heard. We don’t know. All I know is Levin-Reed will drastically change the policy in Iraq.”
A recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows more than seven out of 10 Americans want all U.S. troops out by April of next year. Sixty-two percent say sending troops to Iraq was a mistake — the highest percentage so far.
Meanwhile in Iraq, three people including a U.S. soldier were killed in an attack on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad. It’s believed to be the most intense mortar fire the Green Zone has seen to date. Eighteen people were wounded.
In Pakistan, the standoff at Islamamad’s Red Mosque appears to be nearing a close following a deadly raid by Pakistani troops that killed at least 50 people. The rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was among the dead. Fighting continued earlier today, but Pakistani troops are said to be in control of most of the compound. The Pakistan government says it stormed the mosque after talks to end the week-long crisis broke down. Critics say the bloodshed could have been avoided with more time. The Bush administration has come out in support of the raid. More on this story after headlines.
In the Occupied Territories, Hamas is denying accusations from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas it has allowed al-Qaeda-linked groups into the Gaza Strip. Abbas made the charge in an interview with Italian television on Monday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Al-Qaeda entered (Gaza) through Hamas. Hamas protects and supports al-Qaeda. With this bloody behavior, Hamas is becoming very close to al-Qaeda.”
Abbas also said he would refuse to meet with Hamas officials until Hamas agreed to hand back control over the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh rejected the al-Qaeda charge and urged Abbas to agree to talks.
Ismail Haniyeh: “Hamas has no links with al-Qaeda. Hamas’ policy and strategy are different. Hamas fights the Israeli occupation and only inside the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and has never operated outside these borders. We say that the only way to end this Palestinian situation is a dialogue, without conditions. I think that the president is in a hurry when being asked about dialogue with the Hamas movement.”
The family of the slain peace activist Rachel Corrie is asking a federal appeals court to reinstate its lawsuit against Caterpillar Inc. Corrie was crushed to death beneath a 60-ton Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to stop an Israeli soldier from demolishing a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip in March 2003. The Corrie family’s suit says Caterpillar sold the Israeli government the bulldozers despite knowing they would be used for human rights abuses. Four Palestinian families with relatives killed or injured during Israeli home destructions have joined the Corries in the case. The suit was dismissed in 2005 after a district judge backed Caterpillar’s argument that it isn’t responsible for how the Israeli military uses its bulldozers.
In Afghanistan, the toll from Tuesday’s suicide attack in a southern province has risen to at least 17, including at least 13 children.
NATO spokesperson Major John Thomas: “Today in southern Afghanistan in a marketplace near a school, a Taliban extremist has apparently detonated a suicide vehicle bomb that killed up to 12 civilians, injured more than 60 civilians and injured seven ISAF soldiers. This was during the day when people were shopping. It was near a school and a number of children who were injured or killed. That number may rise as we find out more about this.”
In Italy, the absentia trial of the U.S. soldier accused of killing the Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari continues in Rome. Mario Lozano is accused of shooting Calipari as he escorted the then-newly freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport. Italian ballistics experts concluded that the car was driving at a normal speed and that the U.S. unit gave no warnings before opening fire. On Tuesday, Lozano defense attorney Alberto Biffani said the Italian court had no right to try his client.
Alberto Biffani: “If there is one certain point in this case, and there are more than one, the first is that the jurisdiction of an Italian judge does not exist.”
Giuliana Sgrena accused the defense team of trying to stall the case. The next court date is scheduled for late September.
In Mexico, a Mexican architect has broken more than two decades of silence to reveal she may have discovered the bodies of three people killed in the 1968 government massacre of student protesters. Human rights groups estimate up to 300 people were killed when government forces opened fire on students gathered in Tlatelolco Plaza. Rosa María Alvarado Martínez says she was working on remodeling the adjacent hospital in 1981 when workers discovered three bodies buried underground. Alvarado says she kept quiet after police told her they would kill her son if she went public. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has drawn criticism for closing the office of the special prosecutor investigating the killings. On Tuesday, the prosecutor, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, said the bodies should be exhumed and identified.
In China, the former top Chinese official for food and drug regulation was executed Tuesday. Zheng Xiaoyu was chief of China’s State Food and Drug Administration from 1998 to 2005. He was found to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies to allow at least six fake drugs on the Chinese market.
Here in the United States, the first surgeon general appointed by President Bush has spoken out against what he calls political interference from the White House. Dr. Richard Carmona’s four-year term as the nation’s top doctor ended last year. On Tuesday, Carmona said administration officials censored his speeches and prevented him from speaking publicly on issues including stem cell research, contraceptive use, prisoner healthcare and the administration’s promotion of abstinence-only sex education. Carmona said, “There is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.” Carmona’s comments came in testimony before the House Oversight Committee. The Senate is set to take up the president’s nomination of Dr. James Holsinger as his successor this week. Holsinger has already drawn controversy for making what many see as homophobic comments in the early 1990s.
Privacy experts are raising alarm bells about a new FBI program that would pay private companies to hold millions of phone and Internet records the FBI is barred from keeping itself. Companies would be responsible for at least two years of network calling records. The program would allow the FBI to skirt laws banning the collection of data not directly connected to a criminal investigation or intelligence matter. The proposed companies involved are Verizon, MCI and AT&T.
Senate Democrats have taken steps toward cutting off funding for the office of Vice President Cheney over Cheney’s refusal to comply with laws governing the handling of classified information. Cheney has tried to duck national security disclosure rules by arguing his office isn’t within the executive branch. He also tried to shut down the oversight office that asked him to comply. On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to freeze nearly $5 million in Cheney’s office funding until Cheney drops his refusal.
Several Democratic candidates have announced they’ll take part in the first-ever presidential forum focusing on gay and lesbian issues. The event is scheduled for August 9. It will be hosted by the Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and musician Melissa Etheridge.
In other election news, Republican Senator John McCain’s campaign hopes are facing major doubt today following the departure of four top aides. On Tuesday, campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver announced their resignations. Nelson and Weaver reportedly decided to step down following a heated argument with McCain after he returned from a recent visit to Iraq. Also departing from the McCain camp, political director Rob Jesmer and deputy campaign manager Reed Galen.
And former White House political director Sara Taylor is slated to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the ongoing probe into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. President Bush has invoked executive privilege to prevent Taylor from answering questions. In a statement today, Taylor said she will follow Bush’s directive unless a court instructs her to do otherwise.