The Bush administration has proposed a major new arms deal with Saudi Arabia and greatly boosting military aid to Israel as part of an effort to counter Iran by arming its regional rivals. President Bush wants to sell $20 billion worth of high-tech weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The sale could help spur a new arms race in the Middle East as the Bush administration is proposing to give $30 billion in new aid to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt. Historically, Israel has opposed U.S.-Saudi arms deals, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that he understands Washington is planning to supply the state-of-the-art weapons to Riyadh as a counterweight to Iranian influence.
Ehud Olmert: “In addition to the huge increase of the security aid (to Israel) this was a renewed, explicit and detailed commitment to keep Israel’s advantage over the Arab states. We understand the need of the U.S. to assist the moderate Arab states which are in one front with the U.S. and us in the fight against Iran, and on the other hand we appreciate the renewed and re-emphasized support for Israel’s military and security advantage.”
Under the plan, U.S. aid to Israel will increase by 25 percent. The deal is expected to be officially announced today after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrive in the Middle East for joint meetings in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Opposition to the Saudi arms deal is already emerging on Capitol Hill. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said they plan to introduce a resolution to block the deal. Rep. Weiner said, “Saudi Arabia should not get an ounce of military support from the U.S. until they unequivocally denounce terrorism and take tangible steps to prevent it.” The arms deal is being proposed at a time when Saudi’s actions in Iraq are coming under increasing scrutiny. On Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, accused Saudi Arabia of undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times revealed that nearly half of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops in Iraq have come from Saudi Arabia.
Criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues to increase. On Sunday, the editors of The New York Times urged Congress to impeach Gonzales if Solicitor General Paul Clement does not appoint a special prosecutor to probe Gonzales’s actions. The Times accused Gonzales of lying to Congress about his role in the political purge of nine federal prosecutors and about President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping operation.
New questions are being raised over the death of Pat Tillman, the football star turned Army Ranger who died in Afghanistan in 2004. The Associated Press has obtained new documents that suggest Tillman might have been deliberately shot by a fellow Army Ranger. The documents show Tillman was shot three times in the forehead. The bullet holes were so close together that it appeared Tillman was cut down by an M-16 fired from about 10 yards away. Army medical examiners were initially suspicious and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player’s death amounted to a crime. The Pentagon initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Later, the military said Tillman was killed by friendly fire.
A new study of California’s electronic voting machines has raised new questions about the security of the system. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a state-sanctioned team of computer hackers were able to break through the security of virtually every model of California’s voting machines and change results or take control of some of the system’s electronic functions. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the researchers were “able to bypass physical and software security in every machine they tested.” The test included voting equipment made by Diebold and Sequoia.
President Bush is urging Congress to rewrite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it easier for the government to secretly monitor overseas and some domestic communications. On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, Bush said the FISA Act needs to be modernized.
President Bush: “It seeks to restore FISA to its original focus on protecting the privacy interests of people inside the United States, so we don’t have to obtain court orders to effectively collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets located in foreign locations. … It allows the government to work more efficiently with private-sector entities like communications providers, whose help is essential.”
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin accused President Bush of trying to exploit the threat from al-Qaeda to push the bill. Feingold said the measure was an “egregious power grab that includes broad new powers that have nothing to do with bringing FISA up to date.” The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the bill in part because it would give immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability for the telecommunication companies that participate in the NSA program.
The aid group Oxfam is warning that about eight million Iraqis–nearly a third of the population–need immediate emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. The report said 15 percent of Iraqis cannot regularly afford to eat. Seventy percent are without adequate water supplies. And over a quarter of all children are malnourished. Jeremy Hobbs of Oxfam said: “Basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people.” Last week Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, admitted that Baghdad residents can now only count on an hour or two of electricity a day. That’s the lowest level since the U.S. invasion. Before the war, Baghdad residents received 16 to 24 average hours of electricity each day.
Despite the ongoing war and occupation, celebrations were held across Iraq on Sunday after the national soccer team stunned the sporting world by beating Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup Finals. After the game, the team’s captain, Younis Mahmoud, called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Mahmoud said: “I want America to go out. … I wish the American people didn’t invade Iraq, and hopefully it will be over soon.”
Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, held secret talks on Friday with opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The pair met for an hour in Abu Dhabi to discuss a possible power-sharing agreement. Bhutto has lived in exile since 1998. Bhutto said Sunday that she would not strike a deal unless Musharraf stepped down as the head of Pakistan’s military. Meanwhile, 15 people died in Pakistan on Friday in a suicide bombing near the Red Mosque in Islamabad.
In India, police shot dead at least eight protesters during a demonstration calling for the state to give government land to the poor. The protest occurred in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. A state minister said police opened fire on a tent filled with people after some protesters threw stones at the officers. The protest was part of a day-long demonstration across the state planned by two communist parties spearheading the demand for free government land for the poor. Nilotpal Basu of the Communist Party of India said the chief minister of the state should step down following the killings.
Nilotpal Basu: “We think Rajashekhara Reddy has absolutely no moral right to continue in office. Not only has he fired people who were innocent and killed them, but on top of that he is spreading the worst kind of falsehood. Television footages have showed that there were no provocation, no violence on the part of the demonstrators. Only when they attacked the peoples’ leaders there, the people tried to rescue them, and in response this kind of barbarity has happened.”
Protests continued today in India. In New Delhi, police used water cannons to break up a student protest over the shootings.
The Washington Post has revealed the Bush administration blocked the U.S. surgeon general from releasing a report last year that called on the government to spend more money on global health issues. A Bush political appointee reportedly blocked the publication because it did not promote the administration’s policy accomplishments. In the report, Surgeon General Richard Carmona described the link between poverty and poor health and urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy. The report also called on corporations to help improve health conditions and warned about the use of pesticides. Carmona, who served as surgeon general up until last year, was also prevented from publishing a report on healthcare in the nation’s prisons.
In New York, the city is proposing new rules to require many photographers and camera operators to obtain permits before taking photos or shooting video in the city. Under the proposal, any group of two or more people using a handheld camera in one location for more than 30 minutes would be required to have a permit and $1 million in insurance. In addition, small groups using a single tripod for more than 10 minutes would be forced to obtain a permit and insurance. On Friday, over 400 people rallied in Union Square to protest the proposed rules.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel: “We are a city and a country that values free expression, and to say to people who have cameras that they have to get permits if they are there for a certain period of time or if they have a tripod seems to me to be trampling on people’s First Amendment rights, and we in New York need to speak up and speak up now. Otherwise, we will wake up and our rights will have eroded.”
Over 6,000 people, including Michael Stipe and Patti Smith, have signed a petition in recent days opposing the city’s proposal.
In Georgia, Former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for libel. McKinney claims the newspaper misrepresented facts about her run-in with Capitol security and that someone telephoned bomb threats to her office from the Journal-Constitution.
And the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman has died at the age of 89.