General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker continued their appearance on Capitol Hill Tuesday with a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. General Petraeus said he foresees a July 2008 rollback of the 30,000 troops sent to Iraq under the so-called troop surge earlier this year. Critics say the prediction is largely meaningless because that same number of troops is already slated to come home. President Bush is expected to endorse Petraeus’ plan in a speech tomorrow night. But administration officials continue to insist any withdrawal is conditioned on their assessment of the situation on the ground. In one exchange, Senator John Warner asked Petraeus if he believed his recommendations would make America safer. Petraeus initially evaded the question. When Warner asked again, Petraeus replied: “I don’t know.” Petraeus later changed his answer to yes when asked for a third time. Democratic presidential candidates were among the most vocal in addressing Petraeus.
Senator Joe Biden: “The American people will not support an infinite war whose sole remaining purpose is to prevent the situation in Iraq from becoming worse than it is today. It’s time to turn the corner, in my view, gentlemen. We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home.”
A recent ABC News/BBC poll shows more than two-thirds of Iraqis believe the so-called troop surge has made their lives worse.
Baghdad resident Youssif Omar: “For sure, the U.S. troops should withdraw. It is a must that no one can disagree with. At the same time, we can say that we have a good government, brilliant mentalities, and we can say that we have good leaders. If all those factors united, we will support the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.”
The congressional hearings on Iraq came as U.S. forces faced more allegations of killing innocent civilians in Baghdad. Residents of Sadr City say two civilians were killed and six others injured in a U.S. raid.
Local resident Umm Hussein: “What is our guilt? Neither al-Maliki nor Talabani can stop the U.S. forces. So, what is the government for?”
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a measure that would have allowed Californians to vote on whether to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The question would have gone on the presidential primary ballot in February of next year. Schwarzenegger says he issued the veto because the voting would divide Californians.
Here in New York, the sixth anniversary of 9/11 was marked Tuesday with the first official ceremony held off the World Trade Center site. Family members gathered at a small nearby park to honor loved ones.
Patricia Reilly: “I come seeking peace, but I think until the mayor and the memorial foundation listen to the families and what’s the right way of remembering those who were killed, at that time I’ll have peace, and I’ll know that my sister is being appropriately remembered.”
David Jones: “It’s just like it happened yesterday. I still feel just jittery and just like one day maybe he’ll show up, but I know it’s never going to happen. So, I come down here to pay my respects to my brother, because he was a good guy.”
The city continued a tradition of beaming two long lights from where the twin towers stood. The anniversary also brought renewed calls for aid to sick 9/11 responders.
New York Congressmember Carolyn Maloney: “On 9/11, 3,000 people lost their lives. Many thousands more lost their health. We provided compensation for the innocent Americans who lost their lives, but not for the men and women who ran in to protect and try to save them, who then became sick or died as a result.”
In Chile, Chileans marked the 34th anniversary of the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected President Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973, Allende died in the presidential palace in the attack that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet joined Allende’s daughter and granddaughter to lay flowers at the site of his death. Tuesday’s commemoration was the first since Pinochet’s death in December of last year.
In Mexico, a rebel group has claimed responsibility for Monday’s bombing of gas and oil pipelines in Veracruz state. The Popular Revolutionary Army says it launched the attacks to pressure the government to release two members it says were seized in Oaxaca. The Mexican government denies holding them in custody.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration is renewing allegations Iran is sending weapons to support the Taliban. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte spoke in Kabul.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte: “Yes, we are concerned by reports, which we consider to be reliable, of Iran — explosively formed projectiles and other kinds of military equipment coming from Iran across the border and coming into the hands of the Taliban. That is a source of concern to us.”
Both the Taliban and Iran have rejected the U.S. allegations. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has hailed Iran as a close ally of his government.
The Bush administration’s top intelligence officials have filed sworn declarations warning the release of information on Guantanamo prisoners will harm national security. The declarations come as part of the administration’s attempt to reverse a recent ruling allowing Guantanamo defense attorneys to access information on their clients. Five officials filed the warnings, including CIA Director Michael Hayden, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander. Two of the statements were classified top-secret.
The Justice Department has announced it won’t seek criminal charges against any current or former executives of the fruit giant Chiquita International. Earlier this year Chiquita admitted to making $1.7 million in illegal payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Questions are being raised whether the Justice Department decision is an attempt to avoid scrutiny of whether the Bush administration gave Chiquita its tacit approval. Last month Chiquita revealed it told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff of the payments while Chertoff was at the Justice Department in April 2003. Chertoff promised a response, but never replied. Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia has been on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for six years. It’s blamed for thousands of murders in Colombia.
In Louisiana, prosecutors have reduced the attempted murder charge of Robert Bailey, one of an accused group of black high school students known as the Jena Six. Bailey and five teens were arrested after a schoolyard fight in which a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion. The fight followed months of escalating tension in the town of Jena, Louisiana. Nooses had been hung from a schoolyard tree where the black students had sat. The Jena Six were initially charged with attempted murder. Mychal Bell is the only student tried so far. An all-white jury found him guilty of second-degree battery and conspiracy in June. A major rally is expected in Jena on September 20th when Bell is sentenced.
And in West Virginia, prosecutors say they’re considering hate crime charges in the kidnapping and torture of an African-American woman who was held captive for at least one week. According to her mother, 20-year-old Megan Williams was repeatedly called racial slurs while she was sexually abused, beaten and stabbed. Six people, all white, have been arrested.