Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he supports stalling a limited withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq set for this summer. Gates made the statement during a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “I think that the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense.”
Reporter: “How brief would that be?”
Robert Gates: “Well, that’s one of the things that we’re still thinking about.”
The Bush administration had previously touted the summer withdrawals as a key sign of progress in Iraq.
In other Iraq news, two journalists with CBS News have been kidnapped in the southern city of Basra. Their names have not been released, but they’ve been identified as a British citizen and an Iraqi.
In Washington, the Pentagon announced the filing of capital charges against six Guantanamo prisoners Monday for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks. Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann said the defendants would be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo.
Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann: “The chief prosecutor has requested that the charges be tried jointly and that they be referred as capital for each defendant. If the convening authority, Mrs. Susan Crawford, in her sole discretion decides to refer the cases as capital, the defendants will face the possibility of being sentenced to death.”
One of the prisoners, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has admitted to masterminding the 9/11 attacks and several other crimes. But his statements have been called into question over the nature of his interrogation and his possible motives in protecting others who could have been involved. The CIA has admitted to waterboarding Mohammed in a secret prison. Pentagon investigators concluded in 2005 that another of the accused, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was also subjected to abusive treatment at Guantanamo. The military commissions themselves have come under criticism. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch said the 9/11 trials would have no legitimacy in a secretive military court.
Jennifer Daskal: “These are not fair commissions, and in order for the verdict to have any sort of legitimacy here in the United States or abroad, it’s absolutely essential that the convictions be brought through a system that is established, that has precedent that’s been relied on and built on and developed over the years and that will have the credibility that the federal court system has, and the military commission system just failed to meet that test.”
On the campaign trail, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia hold contests today in what’s known as the “Potomac primary.” Democratic Senator Barack Obama is expected to follow his weekend sweep of five states with another string of wins. On Monday, Obama gave his stump speech to a large crowd at the University of Maryland.
Sen. Barack Obama: “This is our time. And if you will stand with me, if you will work alongside with me, if you will vote for me on Tuesday, then I promise you this: we will not just win Maryland, we will win the Democratic nomination, we will win the general election, and you and I together, we will go forward to change this country and change the world.”
The Clinton campaign is already looking ahead to several key primaries next month, including Texas and Ohio. Also campaigning in Maryland, Clinton said she was the best candidate to defeat Republican frontrunner John McCain.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Because it’s going to take all of us to win in November. There is absolutely no guarantee that we’re going to be able to assume that everyone knows how badly we need change. We’re going to have to work for it; we’re going to have to make the case. Senator McCain apparently is the Republican nominee, and he will run an aggressive and vigorous campaign. We have to start imagining right now what it will take for our nominee to go toe-to-toe with John McCain on national security, on defense, on homeland security.”
East Timor has declared a state of emergency following an assassination attempt on its two top leaders. President Jose Ramos-Horta is said to be in serious but stable condition after rebel soldiers shot him Monday in a pre-dawn attack. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted, but he was not injured. Ramos-Horta is being treated in an Australian hospital. Doctor Len Notaras said the East Timorese leader is lucky to be alive.
Len Notaras: “Look, we would be very hopeful of a good recovery. This is a very traumatic and nasty event. High-velocity and high-powered weapons shooting somebody in the chest and in the abdomen are nasty injuries, but we would be very hopeful and cognizant of a good recovery.”
Ramos-Horta won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to lead East Timor’s bid against Indonesian occupation. He has served as prime minister and president since East Timor’s independence.
In Japan, a U.S. Marine has been arrested for the alleged rape of a fourteen-year-old Japanese girl on the southern island of Okinawa. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced the charges before the Japanese parliament.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda: “It is unforgivable. Despite the fact that these kind of crimes have occurred in the past, the same kind of thing occurred again. We have to take it seriously.”
Some 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, most of them in Okinawa.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced plans to build 1,000 new Jewish-only homes in East Jerusalem. Israel has previously agreed to halt settlement activity under the U.S.-backed road map. But it now claims the freeze only applies to those settlements it doesn’t want to keep. The announcement comes two months after Israel said it would build new homes in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa near Jerusalem.
Venezuela is in a new spat with the U.S. government following a court victory freezing the Venezuelan state oil company’s foreign assets and bank accounts. The oil giant Exxon Mobil won the order as part of an attempt to recoup an investment in a Venezuelan oil project nationalized last year. More than twelve billion dollars in Venezuelan assets were frozen even though Exxon’s investment was valued at between two to four billion. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut off U.S. oil exports unless the freeze is lifted.
In California, the health insurance giant Blue Cross is coming under criticism for trying to enlist physicians in denying patients medical care. The Los Angeles Times reports Blue Cross has sent doctors copies of health insurance applications filled out by new patients. The doctors are then asked to immediately notify Blue Cross if the applications omit any preexisting conditions that could be used to deny them coverage. Blue Cross is California’s largest for-profit health insurer. Observers say the letters could provide conflicts for doctors who rely on Blue Cross for most of their income. Anthony Wright of Health Access California said, “They are playing a game of ‘gotcha’ where they are trying to use their doctors against their patients’ health interests. That’s about as ugly as it gets.”
The Justice Department has announced the arrest of four people accused of passing on military information to China. The suspects include a former engineer with the defense contractor Boeing.
In business news, the internet search giant Yahoo has rejected a $44 billion takeover bid from Microsoft. Analysts expect Microsoft to boost its offer as it tries to take on leading search giant Google.
And Democratic Congressmember Tom Lantos of California has died. He was eighty. Lantos was the only survivor of the Nazi Holocaust to win a seat in Congress. In 2002, he was a leading backer of the congressional measure authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq.