The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has reached a new high. Pentagon officials say 162,000 American soldiers are now fighting in Iraq. This exceeds the previous high watermark of 161,000 troops in January 2005 after Iraq’s national elections. It is estimated an additional 180,000 contractors are working for the U.S. government in Iraq, bringing the total size of the U.S force in Iraq to over 340,000.
The nonprofit group Just Foreign Policy says the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the U.S. invasion will soon top one million. The group’s estimate is a rough update of a scientific study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University last year, which concluded that 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths were attributable to the invasion as of July 2006.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports the number of private contractors killed in Iraq recently topped 1,000.
The Associated Press has announced an Iraqi journalist working for the press agency has been missing for more than a week. Talal Mohammed is believed to have been kidnapped by masked gunmen while he was traveling from Baghdad to Baquba. Since late last year, Mohammed has provided both news and photographs for the wire agency.
Large celebrations are being held in Beijing today to mark the one-year countdown to the start of the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. But China is coming under criticism from Amnesty International for not keeping its promises to improve human rights and press freedom in preparation for the Olympic Games. Amnesty said there is continued abuse against activists and journalists, increased use of detention without trial and widespread use of the death penalty.
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan: “This is a moment to be proud of, you know, to be proud of the Olympic Games. But if that pride is then stained with human rights violations, that’s bad for China, it’s bad for the Olympic Games, and it’s bad for the international community that will be participating in those games.”
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee said the Olympic Games cannot be expected to resolve all of the issues facing China.
Jacques Rogge: “We are not a government. We are not the representative of all the NGOs of the world. We respect their point of view. We stand for human rights. We stand for strict social values. But we are only a sports organization. We believe that the games are going to move ahead the agenda of the social and human rights as far as possible. The games are going to be a force for the good, but the games are not a panacea.”
China is also being criticized for its treatment of journalists. On Monday, Reporters Without Borders staged an unauthorized protest in Beijing against the continued detention of approximately 100 journalists, cyberdissidents and free speech activists.
Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists: “In fact, on the ground at local levels, Chinese journalists are under tremendous pressure. They are subject to violent attack. They are subject to oppression. While we realize the central government might have a better intention to this, we feel they should be able to control and pressure local officials and bring them to justice when they attack journalists working and doing their jobs at a local level.”
The Financial Times is reporting a congressional committee is investigating whether the Internet company Yahoo intentionally misled Congress over its role in exposing the identity of a Chinese journalist who was sent to prison for a decade. Shi Tao was arrested after posting material on a website about a government crackdown on media and democracy.
The Washington Post reports the Bush administration is close to sealing a major, multi-year aid deal to combat drug cartels in Mexico. It would be the biggest U.S. anti-narcotics effort abroad since the $5 billion Plan Colombia program. Under the plan, the U.S. would provide Mexico with telephone-tapping equipment, radar to track traffickers’ shipments by air, aircraft to transport Mexican anti-drug teams and trainings carried out by the U.S. military.
A mentally disabled U.S. citizen who was wrongly deported to Mexico in May has been found and is expected to be reunited soon with his family in California. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union sued government officials for deporting Pedro Guzman. The ACLU says Guzman was serving a four-month jail sentence for trespassing when he was deported to Tijuana on a supposed immigration charge. He was deported despite telling officers he was born in Los Angeles and lives in a nearby town with his mother. For the past three months members of his family searched shelters, jails and hospitals in Tijuana to track him down.
The United Nations World Meteorological Organization has warned that record-breaking weather extremes have been recorded in almost every continent this year, with global land temperatures reaching their highest levels since records began in 1800. The WMO said it tracked an alarming incidence of unusually adverse weather from Europe and Asia to Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In South Asia, monsoons have killed more than 500 people and displaced more than 10 million others. In the Middle East, the first documented cyclone in the Arabian Sea was reported in June. In China, heavy rains affected more than 13 million people. England and Wales had their wettest May and June since records began in 1766, resulting in extensive flooding and more than $6 billion in damage. Germany swung from its driest April since 1901 to its wettest May on record. Argentina and Chile saw unusually cold winter temperatures in July, while South Africa had its first significant snowfall since 1981 in June. Omar Baddour of the World Climate Program said: “The start of the year 2007 was a very active period in terms of extreme weather events.”
In Utah, rescuers are still trying to reach six coal miners trapped underground. Officials said it would take at least two more days to reach them. Three of the trapped miners are Mexican citizens. No other details about the men have been released.
Robert Murray, of Murray Energy Corporation: “I don’t know if these miners are alive or dead. Only the Lord knows that. If they are dead, the shock of the earthquake, the concussion, killed them, and they died instantly. That’s one scenario. The other scenario is they are very much alive, and we’re going to rescue them.”
While Murray insisted the mine collapse was caused by an earthquake, government seismologists say no earthquake occurred and that it was the collapse of the mine that caused a seismic event. During the same press conference, Robert Murray defended the coal industry and criticized Congress for considering legislation to control global warming.
In New York, a judge has ordered the city’s police department to release hundreds of pages of documents related to police surveillance of protesters ahead of the 2004 Republican National Convention. The papers include raw intelligence reports collected by undercover police officers.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has denied the final appeal of death row prisoner Kenneth Foster, who is scheduled to be executed on August 30. In a six-to-three decision, the appeals court denied Foster’s final writ of habeas corpus. Foster’s last recourse is the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry. According to Foster’s criminal attorney, Keith Hampton, five of the seven board members must recommend clemency in order for Governor Perry to consider granting it. Foster is scheduled to be executed under a controversial Texan law known as the law of parties. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. In Foster’s case, he was driving a car 11 years ago with three passengers. One of the passengers left the car, got into an altercation and shot a man dead. At the time of the shooting, Kenneth Foster was 80 feet away in his car. Since Foster’s original trial, the other passengers have testified that Foster had no idea a shooting was going to take place. According to supporters of Foster, Texas is the only state where you can be factually innocent of murder and still be sent to death row.
The Washington Post is reporting U.S. lawmakers and activists have intensified their appeals for the release of a key western Sudan rebel leader named Suleiman Jamous. Jamous was the humanitarian coordinator for the Sudan Liberation Army for three years before being arrested more than a year ago by a rival chief. Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin has said Jamous is essential to the creation of lasting peace in Sudan. American actress Mia Farrow has offered to go to prison herself in Sudan in exchange for the release of Jamous.
Mia Farrow: “I don’t know what the government of Sudan will decide, but I would happily take Mr Jamous’ place in his confinement in Kadugli to allow him to go back to what he does. He is the rebel who never picked up a gun. He’s a noncombatant. He’s the humanitarian. He is the elder statesman who is of immense value.”
The U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation is publicly opposing the Bush administration’s plan to give Israel $30 billion in additional military aid over the next decade. This package represents a 25 percent increase over the current U.S. annual military aid to Israel. Israel is already the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. The activist group is urging Congress to reject the proposal and to cut off military aid for Israel’s violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and U.S. Foreign Assistance Acts. A recent State Department report found that Israel may have violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act by indiscriminately dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas in Lebanon during last year’s war.
And here in New York, hundreds gathered in the Bronx on Monday to thank Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan oil company Citgo for donating $3.3 million to nine grassroots organizations in the South Bronx. The projects funded include environmental restoration projects and a community food co-op.