10,000 Turkish ground troops have invaded northern Iraq as part of an escalating offensive against Kurdish fighters. The troops entered Iraq on Thursday after Turkish warplanes and artillery bombed targets in northern Iraq. Al Jazeera reports Turkey gave Washington advanced notice of its plans to send in ground troops. The US has been providing intelligence to Turkey since November about the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, in northern Iraq.
At last night’s presidential debate in Austin, Texas, Senator Hillary Clinton accused Senator Barack Obama of plagiarizing part of his campaign speech.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Well, I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That’s, I think, a very simple proposition. And, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox. And I just don’t think” —
Sen. Barack Obama: “Come on. That’s not what happened.”
bq.Sen. Hillary Clinton: “No, but, you know, but, Barack, it is, because, you know, if you look — if you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions.”
Senator Obama dismissed the criticism.
Sen. Barack Obama: “The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who’s one of my national co-chairs who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think, is silly, and — you know, but this is where we start getting into silly season in politics and I think people start getting discouraged about it.”
Earlier in the debate, Obama and Clinton sparred over whether the U.S. should hold talks with the next Cuban leader.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I believe that we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate, but a presidential visit should not be offered and given without some evidence that it will demonstrate the kind of progress that is in our interest and, in this case, in the interest of the Cuban people.”
Senator Barack Obama said he would be personally willing to meet with Raul Castro or whoever becomes the next leader of Cuba.
Sen. Barack Obama: “The problem is if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time, and I think that it’s important for us, in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step. That’s the kind of step that I would like to take as president of the United States.”
Prior to the debate, Senator Barack Obama picked up another union endorsement, this time from the Change to Win coalition. Obama has also won the global primary held by the Democrats Abroad. Obama received over 65 percent of the expatriate American vote. Clinton won about 33 percent. 22,000 expatriate Americans took part in the primary.
On the Republican front, Senator John McCain denied a report in the New York Times that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female telecommunications lobbyist. According to the Times, McCain repeatedly wrote letters to government regulators on behalf of clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. At the time, McCain served as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. The Times also reports that aides to McCain were concerned the senator was having a romantic affair with the lobbyist. On Thursday morning, McCain held a press conference with his wife Cindy.
Sen. John McCain: “I’m very disappointed in the article, and it’s not true. As has been pointed out, I’ve served this nation honorably for more than a half-a-century. When I was seventeen, I raised my hand and supported — said I would support and defend this nation, and I’ve had the honor of serving it ever since. At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust, nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor anyone or any organization.”
The New York Times article has been seen by many as a setback to McCain, who has often railed against lobbyists and special interests in Washington. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that many of McCain’s closest advisers are, in fact, Washington lobbyists. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. McCain’s chief political adviser, Charles Black, Jr., is chair of one of Washington’s lobbying powerhouses, BKSH & Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JP Morgan and US Airways. Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O’ Lakes, Dell and Fannie Mae. McCain’s top fundraising official is former Republican Congressman Tom Loeffler, who heads a lobbying law firm called the Loeffler Group. He has counseled the Saudis, as well as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Toyota and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
The CIA has admitted the United States used the British territory of Diego Garcia during two extraordinary rendition flights in 2002. For years, the US had denied ever using any British airspace or territory for the secret flights, but a recent US investigation uncovered two flights that stopped in Diego Garcia. The CIA continues to deny allegations that the US maintains a secret prison on the island in the Indian Ocean. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband broke the news to MPs on Thursday.
David Miliband: “Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred. An error in the earlier U.S. records search meant these cases did not come to light. In both cases, a single US plane, with a single detainee on board, refueled at the US facility in Diego Garcia.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed “disappointment” about the news.
bq.Gordon Brown: “Well, the United States has expressed regret that it did not know at the time of these renditions through Diego Garcia. The foreign secretary has made a very full statement in the House of Commons about the circumstances surrounding it. He’s also ordered further investigation into what may or may not have happened and will report back to the House of Commons, and we’ve got to assure ourselves that those procedures will never happen again.”
Opposition politicians in Britain said the case undermines the credibility of the British and US governments. Conservative Party politician Andrew Tyrie said that the matter “will leave the British public unwilling to trust other assurances we have received from the US.”
In Serbia, some 200,000 demonstrators gathered in Belgrade Thursday to rally against Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia and its support from the West. During the demonstration around 1,000 protesters attacked the US embassy, smashing their way inside, throwing flares through the window and setting parts of the building on fire. One protester ripped the US flag off its pole while others waved a Serb flag from the balcony. The attack on the embassy drew swift condemnation from Washington and the UN Security Council.
In news from Iraq, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has announced the continuation of a ceasefire by his Mehdi Army for another six months. Sadr’s call for the ceasefire to be renewed was read at Friday prayers across Iraq. The ceasefire has been in place since August, when Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army not to attack rival groups or US troops.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is criticizing the US military for detaining a journalist working for Canadian Television, CTV. Jawed Ahmad was detained in October and has been held without charge at a US military base in Afghanistan. Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists said, “The United States military must explain the reason for his detention and accord him due process. If he is not charged with any crime, then he must be released immediately.” At least two other journalists are currently being held by US forces. Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Hajj is imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein is being detained in Iraq.
In news from New York, a prisoner who once gained notoriety for shooting six New York police officers has died after being stabbed to death in prison. Larry Davis made headlines in 1986 when a team of police officers stormed his Bronx apartment in an attempt to arrest him on drug-related charges. Davis shot six of the officers and managed to escape. He then remained on the run for seventeen days. During his days as a fugitive, Davis became a folk hero to some in New York. Attorney Ronald Kuby said, ’’He was a symbol of resistance in a dangerous and racially polarized city where white cops could — and did — kill black people with impunity.” At the time of his death, Davis was serving a sentence of twenty-five years to life for the fatal shooting of a drug dealer.
And the Rev. James Orange has died at the age of sixty-five. He was a former aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1965, he was arrested in southwest Alabama while organizing a voter registration drive. He was charged with disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of minors. When protesters gathered outside the jail in Marion, Alabama to demand his release, they were brutally beaten by police. One young protester, Jimmie Lee Jackson, died after being shot by a state trooper. The arrest of James Orange is considered one of the catalysts for the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march. Rev. Orange later worked with Cesar Chavez in organizing the United Farm Workers. In 2002, he organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.