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The private military contractor Blackwater is now believed to have killed 20 Iraqi civilians in a mass shooting Sunday in Baghdad. The Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license amidst reports nine civilians were killed when Blackwater guards opened fire. Blackwater says it responded after coming under attack from a roadside bomb. But in its initial report on the shooting, Iraq’s Interior Ministry says the guards shot at a small vehicle that failed to make way for Blackwater’s convoy to pass. An Iraqi couple and their infant were killed in the attack. The New York Times reports video footage of the shooting shows the child burned to the mother’s body after their car caught fire. Blackwater guards and helicopters are then believed to have fired indiscriminately. One survivor of the attack told McClatchy Newspapers the Blackwater guards shot at a gathering of maintenance workers, two more cars, and a mini-bus full of Iraqi girls. Both the survivor and another witness say they did not hear any explosions or gunfire before the Blackwater guards began shooting.
The Blackwater ban has underscored the central role of private military companies in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. After the ban was imposed, the U.S. embassy immediately announced it would suspend all movement of diplomatic personnel around Iraq. Blackwater operates under a multi-million-dollar contract to guard senior U.S. officials in Iraq.
Some are speculating the Iraqi government has already backed down on enforcing the ban. An Iraqi government spokesperson told CNN the ban is not meant indefinitely and suggested it could be lifted if Blackwater agrees to respect Iraqi law.
Meanwhile, Blackwater is now being accused of another fatal shooting of an Iraqi civilian. An Iraqi engineer living in Britain has revealed Blackwater guards shot his 75-year-old father in the southern Iraqi town of Hilla last month. Safaa Rabee says his father had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. But Rabee says the last vehicle in the convoy opened fire when his father pulled back onto the road. An Iraqi police chief told Rabee he has no legal recourse to pursue his father’s killers.
In other Iraq news, new figures show the number of displaced Iraqis his risen by about 50,000 since July. The International Organization for Migration says more than 2,225,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the U.S. invasion.
One of the Bush administration’s top oversight officials is being accused of repeatedly thwarting probes of contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Congressmember Henry Waxman said State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard has censored reports and closed investigations to avoid embarrassing the White House. Krongard is accused of refusing to send investigators to Iraq and Afghanistan to probe $3 billion in contracts. He’s also said to have personally intervened to clear labor abuse charges against the lead contractor building the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The allegations are based on testimony from seven current and former members of Krongard’s staff, as well as private emails. Krongard took the job in May 2005. He had no previous experience at the State Department.
A Marine Corps officer has been cleared of failing to properly investigate the massacre of 24 civilians in the town of Haditha. Captain Lucas McConnell was one of eight marines facing charges in connection with the November 2005 killings. The massacre came to light after U.S. officials falsely claimed 15 civilians had been killed by a roadside bomb.
In Azerbaijan, U.S. military officials toured a radar site Tuesday that Russia has proposed as an alternative to the Bush administration’s plan for a so-called missile defense shield in Europe.
Army Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly: “Again, today, with the parameters we’ve learned, we have to go back and do that analysis and answer that very question, but we just can’t do it right on site. These are, again, complex radars. The systems are complex. We’ve proven that.”
The trip is expected to have little effect on U.S. plans. The White House has already dismissed Azerbaijan as an alternative site. The U.S. wants to base the missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic despite majority public opposition in both countries.
In Argentina, dozens gathered Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of the disappearance of a key witness whose testimony helped convict a former chief of police. Seventy-seven-year-old Jorge Julio López went missing just one day after Police Commissioner Miguel Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison for murder, torture and kidnapping during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” This is López’s son, Ruben López.
Ruben López: “We are living in a democracy. My father is missing. We can’t permit this in our country.”
The elder López had testified about his kidnapping and torture at the hands of the Argentine dictatorship 30 years before. Many believe he was kidnapped again to deter other witnesses from coming forward.
Cuba’s foreign minister has slammed the U.S. embargo on Cuba ahead of next month’s annual vote at the United Nations General Assembly. Felipe Pérez Roque spoke Tuesday in Havana.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque: “The U.S. government has no justification for the embargo. It’s political genocide, an attempt to subject to hunger and disease a small country that poses no threat to U.S security. It’s a model and a reference point for many countries that respect our resistance and admire our project, an imperfect project like all human projects, with a lot of work to be done, but that today is recognized worldwide.”
The General Assembly has overwhelmingly called on lifting the embargo each year. Last year, a record 183 countries voted to lift the blockade. Only the U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands and Palua were opposed.
A federal judge has accepted a plea deal that will avoid jail time for current and former executives of the fruit giant Chiquita. Earlier this year, Chiquita admitted to paying $1.7 million to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. terrorist watch list. 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. Under the plea deal, Chiquita will pay a $25 million fine that the company itself proposed. Chiquita has an estimated $4.5 billion in annual revenue. Colombian officials have criticized the deal. Colombian Justice Minister Carlos Holguín said: “[This agreement] is not worthy of U.S. justice. … It gives the idea that impunity can be bought for a few million dollars.”
In economic news, new figures show a continuing rise in home foreclosures around the United States. Foreclosure filings reached nearly 244,000 last month — a 36 percent rise over July and more than double over a year ago.
Police at the University of Florida are being accused of censorship and excessive force after tasering a student at a lecture by Democratic Senator John Kerry. Twenty-one-year-old journalism major Andrew Meyer was apprehended as he tried to ask Kerry about African-American disenfranchisement in the 2004 presidential elections. Meyer was clutching a copy of the investigative journalist Greg Palast’s book, “Armed Madhouse.” In full view of a packed hall, police officers cut off Meyer’s microphone, removed him from the room, and shocked him with a stun gun. Meyer was later arrested and charged with resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. He was released Tuesday morning after spending the night in jail. Hours later, some 300 University of Florida students marched on campus in protest.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has declared the Bush administration would support an Israeli attack on Iran. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Bolton said: “We’re talking about a clear message to Iran — Israel has the right to self-defense — and that includes offensive operations against WMD facilities that pose a threat to Israel. The United States would justify such attacks.”
Meanwhile, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government says it’s declared Gaza an “enemy entity” and will disrupt its power and fuel supplies. Israeli officials called the move a response to Palestinian rocket fire. The officials called the steps “civilian levers” that will help pressure Hamas leaders to crack down. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also reported to have said Israel is moving closer to a new attack on Gaza with each passing day. Israel says it will hold off on disrupting Gaza’s water supply for now. Hamas officials say Israel’s plans amount to collective punishment and are seen as a declaration of war.
On Tuesday’s program we reported the International Atomic Energy Agency is accusing congressional Democrats of drafting a misleading and erroneous report on Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, the IAEA’s criticism has been directed at congressional Republicans. Last year, on Sept. 12, 2006, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency sent a letter to Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who at the time chaired the House Intelligence Committee. The letter claimed Hoekstra's report on Iran contained serious distortions of the IAEA’s own findings on Iran’s nuclear activity. Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey did not have a role in drafting the congressional report and was publicly critical of its findings. We inaccurately described Congressman Holt’s role on Tuesday.