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More than 200 people were arrested nationwide Wednesday in dozens of protests marking the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. In San Francisco, at least 140 protesters were jailed, many of them in front of the offices of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. In Washington, thirty-two people were arrested after they tried to block an entrance to the IRS.
Protester: “I’m here because I want the IRS to know that I don’t support this war, and I do pay taxes. It’s disappointing.”
Also in the nation’s capital, protesters blocked traffic at a busy downtown intersection. Others marched from Arlington Cemetery wearing white “death masks” bearing the names of people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than a hundred members of Veterans for Peace also held a march denouncing the Iraq occupation.
Jim Bulgera: “I’m out here today as a veteran of the Vietnam War to do what I can to help the American people know that we’re no longer fighting just wars. We’re fighting wars for political and economic profit.”
Tony Teolis: “I have no other choice but to be here today and march in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, the veterans, active-duty service members, resisters, protesting the start of an illegal war five years ago
Here in New York, around thirty members of the Granny Peace Brigade held a “knit-in” in Times Square. The protesters said they would knit items for amputee veterans and Iraqi families.
Eva-Lee Baird: “The knitting is also symbolic that we will keep knitting until this war is over. It’s a symbol of our determination to end this war.”
Five people were also arrested in Boston after they lay on the ground blocking access to a military recruitment center. In Chicopee, Massachusetts, eight people were arrested blocking the entrance to Westover Air Force Base. In a statement, the group said they were arrested for the same action when the Iraq invasion began five years ago. Other cities hosting actions included Cincinnati, where protesters set up a two-mile display of 4,000 t-shirts meant to symbolize the number of US troops killed in Iraq.
At the Pentagon, President Bush dismissed criticism of the war, saying US occupation has brought “undeniable” success in Iraq.
President Bush: “There is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me: removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win.”
Bush’s approval rating is at 31 percent, a forty-point drop since the eve of the Iraq invasion. In Iraq, Baghdad resident Abu Abdullah dismissed Bush’s self-praise.
Abu Abdullah: “Whatever Bush says, he does not care about the interests of the Iraqi people or the interests of the Arab and Islamic world. He only cares about the interests of America. They are only looking for oil wells and bases
for them in the world. If you ask me about what Bush wants, I will say that he wants to destroy Iraq and the Arab and Islamic world.”
A recent survey found more than two-thirds of Iraqis believe US-led coalition forces should leave Iraq. A quarter of those surveyed said they had lost a family member to murder since the war began. Meanwhile a new CNN poll shows two-thirds of Americans oppose the war, while more than seven-out-of-ten believe it’s hurt the economy. In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, Vice President Dick Cheney said public opinion is of little concern.
Vice President Dick Cheney: “On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.”
Martha Raddatz: “Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.”
Raddatz: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?”
Cheney: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.”
Cheney spent the war’s fifth anniversary in Oman, where he went fishing on the Sultan of Oman’s sixty-foot royal yacht. Cheney is now in Afghanistan, as he continues a Middle East tour.
The fifth-year anniversary made the Iraq war a rare topic on the campaign trail Wednesday. In North Carolina, Senator Barack Obama said his opposition to attacking Iraq from the outset puts him in better position to challenge Republican candidate John McCain.
Sen. Barack Obama: “The way to win a debate with John McCain is not to talk, act and vote like him on national security, because then we all lose. The way to win that debate and to keep America safe is to offer a clear contrast, and that’s what I will do when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party, because since before this war in Iraq, I’ve made different judgments. I have a different vision, and I will offer a clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past.”
In Detroit, Senator Hillary Clinton touted her plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Clinton said Iraqis should take responsibility now that the US has given them “the precious gift of freedom.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I have been outlining plans as to what we can and must do to begin bringing our sons and daughters home. I am convinced that we can start within sixty days and do it in a responsible and careful manner, recognizing that the Iraqi government has to take responsibility for its own future, that we have given them the precious gift of freedom, and it is up to them to decide whether or not they will use it. But we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.”
Both Clinton and Obama’s withdrawal plans would leave tens of thousands of US troops and contractors in Iraq.
China has acknowledged anti-government protests in Tibet have spread to other provinces. The unrest broke out last week when Buddhist monks took to the streets of the capital Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested in the Chinese crackdown. On Wednesday, a monk in Lhasa said Tibetans are prepared to rise up.
Tamki: “Our first demand is for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, and that is the hope of all of us. That is why we are ordering these protests and demonstrations. We demand the total independence of Tibet — freedom, equality, peace and happiness. That is what we are demanding. Many of our people have been killed, and that is why our people are up in revolt.”
In Afghanistan, witnesses are speaking out about the latest deadly US attack on Afghan civilians. Six family members were killed Wednesday when US forces raided a southeastern village.
Relative: “Americans have killed them during the night. The victims have not committed any crime. The Americans killed them inside their room.”
Villager: “American helicopters dropped soldiers off. The soldiers entered the houses and killed anyone they found. They have martyred three members of
one family, including a child. A woman is wounded. And in the second house, a woman, a kid and the kid’s father have been martyred.”
Two of the dead were children no more than ten years old. Witnesses say they bore bullet bounds to the head and chest. The attack came one day after Afghan lawmakers said thirty people, including civilians, were killed in a NATO air strike on Helmand province. The report has not been independently verified.
New allegations of abuses at US prisons abroad. An upcoming expose in The New Yorker magazine says prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were submerged in garbage cans filled with icy water and held naked under cold showers in near-freezing temperatures until going into shock. Sgt. Javal Davis told The New Yorker some prisoners were starved prior to being interrogated. Sgt. Davis also says he suspected prisoners were being cremated at the prison after witnessing an incinerator containing human bones. Another soldier, Sabrina Harman, said the US had imprisoned women and children at Abu Ghraib, including one child as young as ten years old. Harman gained notoriety for appearing in a photograph posing over the body of a prisoner she now says she believed was tortured to death.
Meanwhile, at Guantanamo Bay, the twenty-one-year-old prisoner Omar Khadr says US officials have threatened him with rape as an interrogation technique. In a newly uncovered statement, Khadr says he has received several rape threats since his imprisonment six years ago. Khadr was fifteen years old at the time of his capture.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, medical officials say Israeli troops have killed a sixty-year-old Palestinian farmer in Gaza. The victim was reportedly shot dead as he rode his donkey near Khan Younis. The attack follows an Israeli bombing late Tuesday that wounded at least twelve Palestinians in northern Gaza. Israel says it was targeting militants involved in rocket attacks on Israeli towns. The Palestinian Authority has resumed talks with Israel after a brief suspension following Israeli attacks that killed some 120 Palestinians over four days last month. In Jerusalem, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat urged Israel to implement its minimal requirements under the US-backed road map.
Saeb Erekat: “There is a total of 5,378 housing units (built since the Annapolis summit), 5,378 housing units. That’s what Palestinians see being done. And at a time when we’re trying to tell them we’re going to make the year of 2008 a year of peace. we failed to reduce a single roadblock, we failed to stop settlement activities. These are the obligations on Israel emanating from first phase obligations for road map. We failed to reopen offices and institutes closed in East Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was in Israel Wednesday meeting with top government and opposition leaders.
Sen. John McCain: “We all appreciate the fact that events in the Middle East are not disconnected. What happens in Iraq happens — affects events in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and even throughout the region. So I’m happy to report to you that there has been success in Iraq, even though it is certainly not completed. Al-Qaeda is on the run; they are not defeated. But we have seen a significant turnaround and success as a result of the new
McCain has refused to meet with Palestinians during his trip to Israel.
In Ecuador, a mass was held on Wednesday for four Mexican students killed in a Colombian attack on a FARC rebel camp earlier this month. Alvaro Gonzalez, whose son Juan died in the attack, said Colombian officials should be taken to court.
Alvaro Gonzalez: “The most important thing is that they do not defame our children, that they do not assassinate the truth. That is our principal objective. And the second one is that the guilty parties are taken to court, that the guilty parties confess, and that the whole world knows what they did. We have to take them to court, and it doesn’t matter when. I believe that one day they will pay.”
The Organization of American States approved a measure this week condemning the Colombian attack.
And back in the United States, the Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of an African American death row prisoner for racial bias in his trial. In a seven-to-two vote, justices ruled state prosecutor Jim Williams improperly excluded blacks to ensure an all-white jury tried Allen Snyder. Williams had referred to Snyder’s trial as his “O.J. Simpson case.” The Supreme Court has ordered a new trial. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia cast the dissenting votes.