The top US commander in the Middle East has stepped down in what appears to be a direct result of his differences with the Bush administration on Iran. Admiral William Fallon’s resignation comes months after his well-publicized comments that the “constant drumbeat of conflict” from Washington towards Iran is “not helpful and not useful.” The comment was recently reprinted in an Esquire magazine profile that called Fallon the only person who could stop a US attack on Iran. In a statement read by his superior, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Fallon denied stepping down over policy differences but said reports of them had become a distraction.
Defense Sec. Robert Gates: “Admiral Fallon advised me of his decision early this morning. He told me that, quote, 'a current embarrassing situation, public perception of differences between my views and administration policy, and the distraction this causes from the mission make this the right thing to do,' unquote. I have approved Admiral Fallon’s request to retire with reluctance and regret.”
Fallon’s departure is seen by some as a sign of an increased US threat towards Iran. Fallon is also known to have clashed with General David Petraeus on US troop levels in Iraq.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, witnesses say at least seven Iraqis were wounded Tuesday in a US raid on Sadr City. A witness said US forces had fired randomly.
Witness: “We are peaceful families. We were sleeping inside our houses when the US forces attacked us. They attacked our houses, families and children. They hurt us. They bombed our houses randomly.”
At least five Iraqis were reportedly arrested in the raid.
Next week, will mark the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of the Iraq. In the first of several speeches timed to coincide with the five-year mark, President Bush said his decision to invade will forever be the right one.
President Bush: “The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency; it is the right decision at this point in my presidency; and it will forever be the right decision.”
Bush was speaking before a conference of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville, Tennessee.
On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama has extended his delegate lead over Senator Hillary Clinton with a primary victory in Mississippi. Obama won with 61 percent of the vote. Both candidates were in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, host of a key primary in six weeks. Clinton spoke to supporters in the town of Harrisburg.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I want you to know that if you will work for me for the next six weeks, if we can put together a great victory across this commonwealth, I will be there day in and day out fighting for you in the White House, making a difference for you, your families, your jobs, your healthcare. Let’s go out and make history together.”
New results show Obama has also won the Texas Democratic caucuses. Because of allocation rules, CNN is projecting that Obama will net more delegates from Texas than Senator Clinton, who won the state’s primary. Also campaigning in Pennsylvania, Obama addressed supporters at a town-hall style meeting in Fairless Hill.
Sen. Barack Obama: “This is our moment. This is our moment to choose change over more of the same, to choose the future over the past. This is our moment to finally turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday. This is our moment to put the American dream within reach for every American.”
The two campaigns clashed Tuesday over comments by Clinton surrogate and former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. In an interview with a California newspaper, Ferraro said Obama is only a contender in the race because he is black. She said, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is.” Senator Clinton distanced herself from the remarks, but the Obama campaign criticized her for not denouncing Ferraro more forcefully. Ferraro meanwhile defended her comments in an interview with Fox News.
Geraldine Ferraro: “What I actually said before I made that comment — and that was in response to a question at a paid speech. I was not representing Hillary. I had been in Michigan the night before — two nights before with Bill Kristol arguing presidential politics. I get paid for doing that, no connection with the campaign. I got up, and the question was asked, 'So why do you think Barack Obama is in the place he is today, with all these candidates and all these delegates and all the rest of this stuff?' And I said, 'In large part, because he's black.’”
Ferraro’s comments were similar to a statement she made during the 1988 primaries about then-Democratic hopeful Jesse Jackson. Ferraro also said then that Jackson wouldn’t be in the race if he weren’t black.
In Pakistan, at least thirty-one people were killed Tuesday when suicide bombers struck the city of Lahore just minutes apart. Twenty-one of the victims died when a truck bombing hit an office of Pakistan’s top law enforcement agency.
In Ecuador, the family of a Mexican student seriously wounded in last week’s cross-border attack on FARC rebels is calling for legal action against the Colombian government. The parents of Lucia Morett say their daughter was visiting the FARC camp for a research paper when Colombia attacked. She is currently recovering from deep shrapnel wounds. Lucia Morett’s father, Jose Luis Morett, called the strike an act of state terrorism.
Jose Luis Morett: “They have given her the most humane, warm and comforting attention possible, but keeping in mind that she is the victim of a terribly painful act, an act of state terrorism, to attack another nation, to attack civilians without any declaration of war, to come over and massacre people. Every human being deserves the same respect as a group of civilian students like the kids from UNAM that came with my daughter were.”
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has opened a process that could add Venezuela to the list of states sponsoring terrorism. According to the McClatchy news service, the State Department has launched a preliminary legal probe into Venezuela’s alleged links with Colombian rebels. Colombia said it found documents proving Venezuelan ties following its military attack on the FARC base in Ecuador. Venezuela denies the allegations. The State Department currently lists North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran as countries supporting terrorism.
In Spain, a national commemoration was held Tuesday on the fourth anniversary of the Madrid train bombing. 191 people were killed when bombers struck the Atocha train station on March 11, 2004. A woman who lost her husband in the attack said it remains difficult to cope.
Sandra Montserrat: “It has passed for those who have not lived this, but for those who are living this, for those who carry this with them every day, it is very
different. It is very hard, very hard.”
In October, a Spanish court convicted twenty-one people of involvement in the bombings.
East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has spoken publicly for the first time since the attempt on his life last month. Ramos-Horta was seriously wounded when rebels shot him several times in the early hours of February 11th. Speaking from his Australian hospital room, Ramos-Horta said he is lucky to be alive.
East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta: “Today, the first time I am able to speak publicly, although I am refraining from making a political speech, this being Easter week, I wish to use this opportunity to thank all who prayed for me, who looked after me, who cared for me, following the assassination attempt on me by Mr. Alfredo Reinado and Mr. Salsinha a month ago. I thank the government of Australia, the prime minister, the people of Australia, for all the support I received.”
Military operations continue in East Timor to round up seventeen rebels wanted in the attack.
Back in the United States, House Republicans have voted to uphold President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have banned CIA agents from waterboarding and other forms of torture. By a 225-to-188 vote, the Democratic-led House fell short of the needed two-thirds votes to override the President. The bill would have set a single standard for interrogations by US forces by requiring all agencies follow the Army Field Manual.
In Pennsylvania, a federal jury has awarded $28 million to the family of an African American boy slain by police more than five years ago. Michael Ellerbe was twelve years old when officers shot him in the back during a foot chase on Christmas Eve in 2002. Police say Ellerbe had been inside a stolen vehicle. He was unarmed. A civil suit from Ellerbe’s family said the officers had no cause to open fire.
Advocacy groups are criticizing the Bush administration for a new human rights report that eases criticism of China. With the Beijing Olympic Games just months away, the State Department is no longer listing China among the world’s worst human rights offenders. On Tuesday, State Department official Jonathan Farrar was questioned about the change at a Washington news conference.
Jonathan Farrar: “I think if you look at the introduction, you’ll see that what we say about China — I could even flip to it if you give me a second.”
Reporter: “No, I know. I’ve read it.”
*Farrar: “— is exactly accurate.”
Reporter: The fact is that there’s a discrepancy. That’s exactly why I’m asking, because the report says many things about China, but it’s not on that list of worst offenders, and it was last year. Why is it not on the list? That’s my question.”
Farrar: “I would say China is listed under a section dealing with authoritarian countries undergoing economic reform, where the democratic political reform has not kept pace, and that is a completely accurate assessment.”
And here in New York, officials in the city of Troy shut down a community space Tuesday, one day after the opening of a controversial exhibit by an Iraqi-born artist. It marked the second time in a week the exhibit “Virtual Jihadi” by Wafaa Bilal was shut down. Bilal was originally invited to display the installation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, where he is an artist-in-residence. But school officials shut the installation down last Thursday after protests over the focus of the exhibit: a video game based on an al-Qaeda game where President Bush is targeted for assassination.
After Bilal accused RPI of censoring his art, the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy offered to host the exhibit until April.
An opening was held on Monday night, but early on Tuesday the city called to say the building was not up to code because the building’s doors were not wide enough.
Troy, NY official: “We’re going to put a placard on the front door stating that the place has been posted unfit and that no — there should be no assembly there at all for any reason until these doors have been taken care of.”
The phone call came less than twenty-four hours after an inspection by code enforcement and fire officials cleared the building for use. At the exhibit’s opening on Monday night, Wafaa Bilal said the meaning behind the “Virtual Jihadi” was misunderstood.
Wafaa Bilal: “This artwork is meant to bring attention to vulnerabilities of Iraqi civilians, to the travesty of the current war and to expose racist generalization and profiling.”
It is not the first time Bilal’s artwork has caused a stir. He had to flee his native Iraq after being arrested several times, because his artwork was too controversial for Saddam Hussein’s regime.