President Bush has announced a freeze to all US troop withdrawals from Iraq after some brigades pull out in July. This week the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told lawmakers troops need to remain to protect what he called the gains of the so-called “surge.” On Thursday, Bush said Petraeus would have “all the time he needs.”
President Bush: “After detailed discussions with my national security team, including the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Joint Chiefs of Staff, I’ve accepted these recommendations. The recommendation likely to receive the most attention is on troop levels.”
Bush also said he will decrease the length of deployments in Iraq back down to twelve months from the fifteen-month terms he imposed last year. The change will only apply to deployments beginning in August. Also Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he’s abandoned hopes of reducing the US military occupation to less than 100,000 troops by the end of this year. At a Capitol Hill news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Bush’s announcement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “This is not a so-called troop withdrawal pause. With today’s announcement, the President signaled to the American people that he has no intention of bringing home any more troops. Instead, he’s leaving all the tough decisions to the only person that is going to have to make those tough decisions, the next president of the United States. The President has a timeline: January 20th of next year. Our troops also need a timeline.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also criticized President Bush. Pelosi said the White House is entrenching the Iraq occupation beyond Bush’s presidency.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The President has taken us into a failed war. He’s taken us deeply into debt, and that debt is taking us into recession. We need some answers for the President.”
Meanwhile, in Iraq, at least ten civilians were killed Thursday in the latest US attack on the Sadr City area of Baghdad. Two of the dead were reportedly young boys. A Sadr City resident said he blamed Iraq’s government.
Sadr City resident: “What did those families do? What did all those people do to be killed in this way? The reason is our new government. It is our fault to support and elect such a government. It is our fault. What did those families do? What did those martyrs do to be killed in this way.”
In other Iraq news, the Pentagon has announced it will continue to hold the imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein despite an Iraqi order for his release. This week, a four-judge panel ruled Hussein falls under an amnesty law and should be freed without delay. Hussein has been held for nearly two years without charge. The Pentagon says it needs more time to study Hussein’s case before responding to the order.
Two former senior intelligence officials have come forward to confirm reports top Bush administration officials personally discussed and approved how top al-Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA. This week, ABC News revealed a Principals Committee on the National Security Council agreed on controversial interrogation techniques including physical assault, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. The officials included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft. In an interview with the Associated Press, a former senior US intelligence official said the group met in the White House Situation Room and deliberately insulated President Bush from their discussions. The meetings were said to include live demonstrations from CIA officials of the interrogation methods in practice, including waterboarding. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for a congressional investigation. ACLU legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said, “With each new revelation, it is beginning to look like the torture operation was managed and directed out of the White House. This is what we suspected all along.”
The World Bank has joined calls warning of a global crisis over the rising cost of food. On Thursday, World Bank head Robert Zoellick urged wealthy nations to commit at least $500 million to ease a World Food Program shortfall. Zoellick said prices of rice have risen 75 percent over the last two years, hitting poor people the hardest.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick: “This is about recognizing a growing emergency, acting and seizing opportunity, too. The world can do this. We can do this. We can have a new deal on global food policy. First, for the immediate crisis, the international community must fill the at least $500 million food gap identified by the UN’s World Food Program to meet emergency needs.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli tanks have entered the Gaza Strip in a new flare-up of violence there. Four Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed in cross-border attacks this week. Israel has once again cut off all fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip. Officials say Gaza’s lone power plant has enough fuel to last about a week.
Mother Jones magazine has revealed a private security firm staffed by former Secret Service agents spied on several environmental groups beginning in the late 1990s. The firm, Beckett Brown International, later S2i, stole documents from trash bins, planted undercover operatives within groups such as Greenpeace, collected phone records and spied on meetings. The company has worked for clients including the Carlyle Group, Wal-Mart, Monsanto and Halliburton.
And a German citizen ignored by the U.S. court system despite his kidnapping and torture by the CIA has brought his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2003, Khalid El-Masri was seized in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan, where he was held in a secret prison and tortured. Attorneys say his kidnapping and torture has left him a “psychological wreck.” Last year, El-Masri lost a final Supreme Court appeal to have his case heard in a US court. The Bush administration had invoked the so-called “state secrets” privilege to deny El-Masri a trial. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to demand an apology from the White House.