The House has approved a measure that would begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within the next three months. The final vote was 223 to 201, mostly along party lines. Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers to vote “yes.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Let us pass this bill and those that will follow in the coming weeks and provide the new direction on Iraq that the American people demand and that is so urgently needed. I urge a 'yes' vote on the Skelton bill.”
Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich was the lone antiwar Democrat to vote against the bill. The measure would remove most combat troops by April of next year but still leave tens of thousands soldiers behind.
Bush also addressed his commuting of the sentence of former Vice President Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. For the first time, the president publicly acknowledged someone in his administration likely leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But Bush called his decision “fair and balanced” and said he is moving on.
President Bush: “I’m aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person, and I’ve often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this, you know, endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter? But it’s been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House, and it’s run its course, and now we’re going to move on.”
In news from Iraq, at least 16 people were killed Thursday in clashes between U.S. troops and Shiite militias in Baghdad. The dead included a photographer for the Reuters news agency and his driver. They apparently came under fire from a U.S. helicopter.
Unidentified witness: “The U.S. soldiers randomly fired on cars and children. Even journalists were not safe. Over here was a Reuters crew.”
Residents say the remaining dead were civilians, including at least two children. An Agence France-Presse journalist who interviewed witnesses on the scene said the helicopter appeared to indiscriminately fire on any gathering of people in the area.
Privacy concerns are being raised over a U.S. military program that is taking fingerprints and eye scans from thousands of Iraqi men and inputting them into a Pentagon database. USA Today reports Iraqis have been stopped at checkpoints, workplaces and sites of attacks and scanned by U.S. troops. Between 5,000 to 10,000 Baghdad residents have been scanned since March. Iraqis face being barred from their neighborhoods if they refuse the biometric scans.
In other Iraq news, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees has issued an urgent appeal for more funding to aid Iraqi refugees. Nearly four million Iraqis have been internally displaced or left Iraq. The U.N. says that number is growing by around 2,000 people fleeing their homes each day.
In campaign news, Senator Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards have been caught discussing an apparent plan to exclude other Democratic candidates from future debates. On Thursday, Edwards and Clinton were speaking privately after an NAACP Presidential Forum in Detroit. Unaware their microphones were still on, Edwards is overheard saying: “We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group.” Clinton agreed, responding: “We’ve got to cut the number. … They’re not serious.” Clinton also indicated the two had discussed the plan before, telling Edwards, “we’ve got to get back to it.” In response, Ohio congressmember and Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich said: “No matter how important or influential they perceive themselves to be, [candidates] do not have and should not have the power to determine who is allowed to speak to the American public and who is not. Imperial candidates are as repugnant to the American people and to our democracy as an imperial president.”
In other campaign news, the nation’s largest union of firefighters has released a new video urging members not to support the campaign of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Titled “Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend,” the International Association of Fire Fighters video criticizes Giuliani’s handling of the 9/11 aftermath.
Unidentified firefighter #1: “We did need radios that worked; we didn’t have 'em. We did need proper respiratory protection; he didn't give it to us. The things we needed to do our job even better, we didn’t have because of his administration.”
Unidentified firefighter #2: “So ultimately the mayor of New York, at the time, Mr. Giuliani, he has to bear these responsibilities.”
Unidentified firefighter #3: “And I blame Giuliani. He was the leader that day. He was the leader for the eight leaders leading up to that.”
Unidentified firefighter #4: “I wish I could put him on the stand, where he’d have to put his hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth.”
Unidentified firefighter #5: “He’s not a leader. He’s running on 9/11, and it’s all a fallacy.”
The video blames Giuliani for faulty equipment that hindered the recovery and accuses him of prioritizing a search for bank-owned gold buried beneath the rubble over recovering the remains of the victims.
In Somalia, at least three people were killed and 13 wounded as heavy shelling hit the capital Mogadishu. The fighting comes ahead of a government-backed reconciliation conference set for this weekend.
Dr. Hassan Osman Isse, manager of the Madina Hospital: “Until this morning we received 24 wounded civilians. Seven of them were seriously injured. These days we expect at least 40 casualties daily.”
Somalia has seen intense clashes in fighting between U.S.-backed Ethiopian and Somali forces against Islamic clerics.
In Mexico, a federal court has suspended the genocide trial against former President Luis Echeverria. Echeverria was accused over his alleged role in the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of student protesters. He was interior minister at the time and has been accused of ordering government forces to open fire. The killings occurred 10 days before Mexico hosted the Olympic Games. Human rights groups estimate up to 300 people were killed.
In Peru, hundreds of people gathered outside the Chilean Embassy Thursday to protest a Chilean Supreme Court’s rejection of an extradition request for former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori faces several corruption and human rights charges, including the killing of political opponents, illegal phone tapping and bribery. Protester Gisela Ortiz lost family members under the Fujimori regime. On Thursday, she criticized Chilean judge Orlando Alvarez for his decision.
Gisela Ortiz: “What Dr. Alvarez has done not only shows a lack of familiarity with the cases of human rights violations, but it also shows the political arrangement the Chilean government has to avoid fighting with Japan over the issue of Fujimori.”
The extradition request will now go before a second Chilean Supreme Court hearing, which will have final say.
Back in the United States, the House Judiciary Subcommittee has moved toward beginning contempt proceedings against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Miers refused to appear before a congressional hearing on the firing of U.S. attorneys after President Bush invoked executive privilege to prevent her testimony.
In Georgia, the prosecutor behind the controversial jailing of Genarlow Wilson is facing allegations of distributing child pornography in his effort to keep Wilson behind bars. Wilson, an African American, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for having consensual oral sex with another teenager. He was 17 years old, and the girl was 15 years old when the sexual encounter took place. Wilson was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation. He has already spent two years behind bars. This week, District Attorney David McDade distributed some 35 copies of video allegedly showing the teens’ sexual encounter. Georgia’s chief federal prosecutor, David Nahmias, said the video constitutes child pornography and called on McDade to stop releasing copies. Nahmias did not rule out bringing criminal charges over McDade’s actions. In addition to releasing the tapes, McDade did not obscure the faces of the females to obscure their identity, and did not try to keep the material under seal.
And finally, back at the White House, President Bush reverted to a presidential press conference tradition he has long ignored — giving the first question to veteran correspondent Helen Thomas.
Helen Thomas: “Mr. President, you started this war, a war of your choosing, and you can end it alone, today, at this point — bring in peacekeepers, U.N. peacekeepers. Two million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees. Two million more are displaced. Thousands and thousands are dead. Don’t you understand, you brought the al-Qaeda into Iraq?”
President Bush: “Actually, I was hoping to solve the Iraqi issue diplomatically. That’s why I went to the United Nations and worked with the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. That was the message, the clear message to Saddam Hussein. He chose the course.”
Thomas: “Didn’t we go into Iraq” —
Bush: “It was his decision to make.”