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300,000 US troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. This, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation. Researchers say nearly 20 percent of the troops who served in the war zones are suffering PTSD and depression, but only half of them have sought treatment. RAND researcher Terri Tanielian said, “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation.” The study also estimates that 320,000 service members had experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. Researchers say female soldiers and reservists had the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Meanwhile, in Texas, the Dallas VA Medical Center has been forced to close its psychiatric ward to new patients after the suicides of four veterans this year.
At least fifty Iraqis died Thursday when a suicide bomber struck the funeral of two Sunni brothers. Both men belonged to the Awakening Council, a Sunni-led group opposed to al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. The suicide bomber walked into a tent crowded with mourners and detonated explosives strapped to his body. It was the deadliest blast in Iraq in over a month. The Los Angeles Times reports the bombing was the latest strike in an internal war among Sunni Arabs, some of whom have aligned themselves with the Americans and others with al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In Baghdad, the New York Times reports, US forces have begun building a massive concrete wall partitioning part of the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City from the rest of Baghdad. US officials say they want to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces.
Meanwhile, a new study by the Pentagon’s premier military educational institute has concluded the war in Iraq has become “a major debacle” and the outcome “is in doubt” despite the so-called surge. The opening line of the report says, “Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle.” The study was released by the National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon research center.
The Wall Street Journal reports US commanders in Iraq have begun releasing hundreds of Iraqi prisoners after concluding the military’s detention policy might be harming US goals in Iraq. The US is currently holding about 23,000 Iraqis, many without charge. The US military has begun building a pair of large halfway houses in Taji and Ramadi, where detainees will undergo vocational training. The Wall Street Journal reports the US military also plans to teach religious courses to the former prisoners about how to be a moderate Muslim. Imams will be brought in by the military to teach courses that highlight the Islamic precepts that bar the killing of innocents and offer alternative interpretations of jihad.
In news from Africa, Kenya has sworn in a power-sharing government nearly four months after a disputed election plunged the east African country into a bloody crisis that left more than 1,200 people dead. Mwai Kibaki will remain as president, and his chief rival, Raila Odinga, will serve as prime minister. The two men met secretly recently to break a six-week deadlock over forming the coalition. Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Kenya must remain united.
Raila Odinga: “We have been to hell and back. Never again in our history must we return to those times. We must preserve the sanctity of our nation state and remain united. But our unity cannot be based on words and goodwill alone.”
Pope Benedict XVI met privately with a group of victims of clergy sex abuse on Thursday, the third day of his US trip. The unannounced meeting took place in the chapel of the papal embassy. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict discussed the impact the scandal has had on the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI: “I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving, personal attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli government to investigate the recent killings of Palestinian civilians and a Reuters journalist in Gaza. Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was struck by fire from an Israeli tank while he was filming. He had traveled to the scene in a car clearly marked “TV-Press.” He was killed as he started to film the tank. Doctors in Gaza have revealed that Fadel Shana was killed by a controversial weapon that fired metal darts from a tank shell. Several of the three-centimeter-long darts, known as flechettes, were embedded in Shana’s legs and chest. Israeli doctors and Palestinian human rights groups attempted to get the US-supplied weapons banned in Israel five years ago. Reuters senior Gaza correspondent Nidal al-Mughrabi condemned the killing of Fadel Shana.
Nidal al-Mughrabi: “What happened was very tragic. Today is a very black day. Today is a very sad day. We all know that this was the price for Fadel’s dedication and bravery, and this is the kind of price that dedicated journalists pay in areas as risky as Gaza. Reuters has demanded a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of Fadel’s killing, and we will await the investigation.”
Former President Jimmy Carter is heading to Syria today for talks with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Carter said the meetings with Hamas are necessary to move forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Jimmy Carter: “The leaders of Hamas, would they accept a proposition that if there is success between Abu Mazen and the Prime Minister of Israel and they reached an agreement on all the issues, the major issues, and if they were then submitted to a referendum of the Palestinian community and the Palestinians approve, would Hamas accept that agreement? And that answer was yes.”
Carter also criticized the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. He said, “It’s an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It’s a crime.” He said Palestinians are starving to death because of the blockade.
In economic news, Merrill Lynch has announced plans to eliminate 4,000 jobs this year, about ten percent of its workforce. The investment bank lost $2 billion in the first three months of the year.
Meanwhile, the student loan crisis is worsening. On Thursday, Bank of America announced it is ending its private student loan business for the coming year. The bank will continue to offer loans through the federal student loan program. The Boston Globe reports more than fifty firms have abandoned or cut back their federal or private student loan programs this year, unable to raise money in the financial markets.
The world’s largest gold miner, Barrick Gold, is threatening to sue a small Canadian book publisher over a new book detailing abuses Canadian-owned businesses have committed in Africa. The book links Barrick Gold to the deaths of fifty-two Tanzanian miners who were buried alive in 1996. The mine was owned at that time by Vancouver-based Sutton and sold to Barrick in 1999. But the authors of the book suggest that Barrick acted with Sutton to prepare the deposit for large-scale development. According to the Canwest News Service, the Quebec publishing house has decided to go ahead with publishing the book despite the threat from Barrick.
And on Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts has introduced legislation aimed at removing federal penalties on personal marijuana use. The legislation would also allow the medical use of marijuana in states that have chosen to make its use for medical purposes legal with a doctor’s recommendation.