American and Iranian officials met in Baghdad Tuesday for their second round of talks on the situation in Iraq. The London Telegraph reports the two sides agreed to form a security committee with the Iraqi government aimed at targeting Sunni insurgents. But in his first public comments after the talks, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker accused Iran of supporting Shiite insurgents attacking U.S. troops.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker: “So I was as clear as I could be with the Iranians in saying this has to be measured in results, not in principles or promises, and that thus far the results on the ground are not encouraging.”
In other Iraq news, thousands of people marched in Baghdad Tuesday to protest the U.S. assault on Husseiniya. The U.S. military has placed the Shiite town under total siege since Saturday. Residents say U.S. helicopters have destroyed three homes, killing at least 18 people, including women and children.
Baghdad resident Abu Hussein: “The occupier has to leave. The occupier has to respect the people of Iraq, its elderly and its youth. They will not divide us Sunnis and Shi’ites. We are all one Iraq.”
Meanwhile, at least four civilians were killed and 10 wounded in a U.S. attack on the Baghdad section of Sadr City earlier today. Residents say U.S. helicopters fired on the densely populated area, striking homes and parked cars. Grieving residents placed the victims’ coffins atop buses to transport the bodies for burial.
Bush’s comments come as polls continue to show he could wind up the most unpopular president in the history of modern polling. The Washington Post reports public disapproval of Bush’s job performance has reached 65 percent. Only President Richard Nixon had a worse standing at 66 percent. That record didn’t last long because Nixon resigned four days later.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday for more questioning on his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys and the Bush administration’s domestic spy program. Gonzales faced heated questioning for a 2004 hospital visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Gonzales has been accused of trying to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on a classified surveillance program as he lay recovering from major surgery in his hospital bed. Gonzales denied trying to get Ashcroft’s approval and said congressional leaders had already agreed the program should continue at a White House meeting. Three lawmakers who were at the meeting immediately refuted Gonzales’ statement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the program was in fact discussed, but no consensus was reached. Gonzales’ testimony repeatedly came under scrutiny from Judiciary Committee members. Republican Senator Arlen Specter said: “I do not find your testimony credible.” Committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy was even more blunt, telling Gonzales, “I don’t trust you.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced it will review its policies on providing trailers for evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. The move follows last week’s news top FEMA officials routinely suppressed internal warnings about dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas in trailers inhabited by evacuees. But the emails show FEMA officials were only concerned with avoiding any legal liability for the evacuees’ potential health problems. As many as 120,000 families lived in the trailers. FEMA officials initially claimed they would not review their policy but reversed course following public outcry.
In healthcare news, new figures show Medicaid rolls have declined since President Bush approved strict documentation requirements targeting undocumented workers last year. Under the rules, Medicaid recipients are required to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to receive government-funded healthcare. Critics warned that in addition to punishing undocumented workers, the requirements would harm low-income Americans unable to provide the necessary documentation. According to the Government Accountability Office, half of states surveyed reported Medicaid enrollment has declined since the rules went into effect. Most blamed the decline on delays in coverage or loss of coverage for eligible U.S. citizens.
A member of the jailed Cuban nationals “the Cuban Five” has spoken out ahead of a federal appeals court hearing next month. Gerardo Hernandez was among the five Cubans convicted in 2001 for spying on behalf of the Cuban government. Their convictions were overturned nearly two years ago when a judge agreed that anti-Castro bias in Miami had denied them a fair trial. But that decision was later reversed. Gerardo Hernandez spoke in an interview from a maximum-security California prison.
Gerardo Hernandez: “You can be a terrorist in this country if your terrorism is against Cuba — no problem with that. Those are the good terrorists of the U.S. government, the anti-Castro terrorists, anti-Castro militants, as they used to be called. If you go to the worst espionage cases in the U.S. history, those people had life sentences for having stolen very secret and damaging documents for foreign powers. Those spies got life sentences, and I got life sentence for having stolen nothing.”
The Arab League has sent its first formal delegation to Israel. Earlier today, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan arrived in Tel Aviv to officially present the Arab League peace offer that would see full recognition of Israel in return for its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and the creation of a Palestinian state. The Arab League first offered the deal in 2002, but Israel rejected it. Israel is likely to do so again. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has sent Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an “Agreement of Principles” that includes Israeli control over large West Bank settlement blocs and near-total Israeli control of East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair continued his first visit as Middle East envoy with meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Blair said he was optimistic at the chances for peace.
Tony Blair: “I think there is a sense of possibility at the moment. I think this is a moment of opportunity, but, for me, the most important thing at the moment is to listen and to learn and to reflect. And as I said earlier today, there will be very many questions that you will have of me. At the moment, I think this is not the time for giving all those answers.”
In Afghanistan, an apparent Taliban spokesperson said today talks on the lives of 23 South Korean hostages have broken down and that an unknown number could be killed. Three previous Taliban-set deadlines have passed with no consequence. The hostages, including 18 women, were kidnapped last week in Ghazni province. Meanwhile, Afghan officials have announced a German journalist and two Afghans have been kidnapped by Taliban militants from a home in eastern Afghanistan.
Back in the United States, the fiancee and two friends of the police victim Sean Bell have filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Police Department. The unarmed Bell was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets as he and two friends left a Queens nightclub the night before his wedding day. Joining Nicole Paultre Bell in the suit are Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. Both were wounded in the shooting.
And there are new developments in the case of the Jena Six — the black high school students in Louisiana charged with attempted murder for a school fight in which a white student was beaten up. On Monday, Jena Six member Theo Shaw was finally released on a more than $100,000 bail.
The only member of the Jena 6 now in prison is Mychall Bell, the first of the Jena Six to go on trial. He was convicted by an all-white jury of aggravated battery and conspiracy. On Tuesday, a judge delayed Bell’s sentencing from later this month to September 20th. Bell faces up to 22 years in prison.