A US military air strike has killed eight Iraqi civilians north of Baghdad. The victims were shepherds in the town of Baiji, including two children and an elderly man. Meanwhile, the US military is being accused of killing more civilians in the Baghdad area of Sadr City. The Pentagon says it killed eleven militants in fighting Wednesday. But a local resident says innocents were among the dead.
Resident: “I lost two men, I lost them. Oh God, where shall we go?”
In other Iraq news, USA Today is reporting the Iraqi government has now become one of the largest purchasers of US arms. Iraq has committed nearly $3 billion for US weapons over the past year. The sales include more than 40,000 M-16 rifles with another 20,000 pending.
The US is defending its imprisonment of some 500 youths in Iraq. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it maintains what it calls an “extremely robust” program to look after detained children. The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the Bush administration of holding the youths in violation of international standards. The US has joined Somalia as the only states to refuse to ratify the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Around 2,500 youths have been jailed in US prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo since 2002.
In Lebanon, the governing cabinet has reached a deal with the opposition movement Hezbollah over Lebanon’s political crisis. Clashes erupted earlier this month after the cabinet banned Hezbollah’s communications network. At least sixty-seven people were killed in the worst domestic violence since the end of Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war. The agreement will give Hezbollah veto power over the make-up of the Lebanese cabinet. Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri said the Qatari-brokered deal would herald “a new page in the history of Lebanon.”
Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri: '’Today, we are opening a new page in the history of Lebanon, a page for reconciliation. I know that the wound is deep and my wound is deep. But in this country, we have no one but each other to build our Lebanon. I thank the state of Qatar and the people of Qatar.'’
The deal is widely seen as a setback for the Bush administration, while strengthening Hezbollah allies Syria and Iran.
In other Middle East news, Israel and Syria have confirmed holding indirect peace talks in Turkey. It’s the first serious negotiations between the two sides in eight years. Israel has occupied Syria’s Golan Heights since the June 1967 war.
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate John McCain is expected to meet this weekend with at least three prospective running mates. Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and former Massachusetts governor and nomination rival Mitt Romney have all accepted invitations to join McCain at his Arizona estate.
On the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton were both in Florida Wednesday courting the state’s uncounted voters. The Democratic Party has refused to seat Florida and Michigan’s delegates for holding their primaries ahead of schedule. Speaking in Boca Raton, Clinton said the votes should be counted.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “I believe that both Senator Obama and myself have an obligation as potential Democratic nominees — in fact, we all have an obligation as Democrats — to carry on this legacy and ensure that in our nominating process every voice is heard and every single vote is counted.”
Clinton may take her campaign to the Democratic convention, despite Obama’s seemingly insurmountable lead. Addressing a rally in Tampa, Obama maintained his refusal to declare himself the outright nominee but said he is on the threshold of victory.
Sen. Barack Obama: “We marked a significant moment in our campaign where we achieved a majority of the pledged delegates that are assigned in this election. And so, we are at the threshold of being able to attain this nomination.”
A new Reuters-Zogby poll gives Obama an eight-point lead over McCain nationwide.
On Capitol Hill, the House has voted to override President Bush’s veto of the $300 billion farm bill. But a technical glitch may force lawmakers to start from scratch. A House clerk mistakenly deleted an entire section of the bill, leading Republicans to argue the House has overrode a veto on legislation that never actually passed. Democratic leaders say they’ll likely pass the initial bill all over again.
In other news from Washington, two top Bush administration officials are expected to come under questioning today over the treatment of immigration prisoners in US custody. Several reports have emerged recently of detainee deaths and forcible injections of psychotropic drugs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats will question Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement head Julie Myers. According to the Washington Post, eighty-three detainees have died in custody or soon after during the past five years.
One of the first prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has testified before Congress on the abuse and torture he says he suffered in US custody. Speaking by satellite from Germany, Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz told the House Foreign Affairs Committee he was beaten, given electric shocks, submerged in water, starved, and chained to a ceiling for days. Kurnaz also says he was forced to take medication and subjected to sexual and religious abuse. His case drew attention last year following the disclosure the US military held him for nearly five years despite privately acknowledging his innocence just months after his capture. Asked about Kurnaz’s congressional testimony, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “I can’t put it any more plainly than the President of the United States has put it, and he says the United States does not torture.”
And a federal appeals court has dealt a new setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay servicemembers. On Wednesday, a three-judge panel ruled the Pentagon cannot automatically dismiss people because they’re gay. The judgment reinstates a lawsuit from Major Margaret Witt, who was dismissed in 2004 after it was revealed she had had a relationship with another woman. The court says the military must prove Witt’s removal improved army morale and cannot just dismiss her because of her sexual orientation.