The toll from Sunday’s US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan has risen to forty-seven civilians, most of them women and children. An Afghan government investigation raised the toll from an initial estimate of twenty-seven deaths. Afghan officials are calling for prosecuting US military forces involved in the attack. The victims were attending a wedding party. Overall civilian casualties are on the rise in Afghanistan. The Red Cross says 250 Afghan civilians have been killed in military or insurgent attacks in the last six days. NATO figures show more than 900 civilian deaths since the start of 2008.
Meanwhile, a provincial Afghan governor has been fired just after criticizing a US airstrike that killed at least fifteen civilians. Nuristan governor Tamim Nuristani was dismissed just hours after calling the US attack “inexcusable” and demanding an independent investigation. Nuristani had said the US military knew civilians were leaving the area it attacked. A woman and a child were among those killed.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators joined together Thursday to protest the Israeli separation wall cutting through the West Bank.
Eighteen demonstrators were left wounded after clashing with Israeli soldiers. Israeli peace activist Yonatan Polak criticized the military crackdown.
Yonatan Polak: “We were trying to get to the bulldozers. We were risking no one. And it seems that with the return to tactics and strategies of the first Intifada by this village and the movement against the wall, it seems that the army is returning to the old commands as well, of breaking arms and legs of demonstrators.”
The action came on the fourth anniversary of the World Court ruling declaring the wall illegally built on occupied land. Israel has ignored the ruling with US support.
Shortly after the clashes, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visited the barrier site and denounced the ongoing construction.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “I’m here visiting with the good people of Nilin on this the fourth anniversary of the landmark advisory opinion and ruling by the International Court of Justice, ruling which, as you all know, requires cessation of building of the wall, destroying or removing the part of it that had been built, and also dealing with the issue as a form of colonization and settlement activity, with all that comes with that — with all that comes with that by way of violation of rights of Palestinians, including, importantly, human rights.”
Here in the United States, a federal judge has ordered the release of the jailed Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian on bond. Al-Arian is awaiting trial for refusing to appear before a grand jury probing an Islamic charity in northern Virginia. He has already spent an additional eighteen months in prison for refusing to testify. Al-Arian was due to be released in April, after serving five years on charges he was a leader of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. He had accepted that sentence after reaching a plea agreement to avoid a second trial. In his original trial, a Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges brought against him. Al-Arian could still find himself behind bars if he posts bond. As part of his plea deal, Al-Arian accepted deportation upon his release, meaning he would be taken into immigration custody if he’s freed from jail. Bond was set at $340,000, the amount of Al-Arian’s retirement fund. Al-Arian’s daughter, the journalist Laila Al-Arian, said, “We’re very pleased that the judge recognized on the record that my father is neither a threat to the community nor a flight risk. We are hoping that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will do the right thing and release him.”
The International Criminal Court has announced plans to charge Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says Bashir is responsible for orchestrating a campaign of violence against Darfurian civilians through support of militia groups in the Darfur region. The charges will mark the first time The Hague indicts a sitting head of state on allegations that severe. The Washington Post reports UN officials are raising concerns the charges could worsen the situation on the ground by stoking retaliatory action by Sudanese forces or proxy militias.
The British government has agreed to pay just under $6 million to settle a case over the torture of ten Iraqi civilians. The money will go to the nine surviving prisoners and the family of the tenth, who died from beatings by British jailers. The slain victim, Iraqi hotel worker Baha Musa, suffered ninety-three injuries to his body. Musa was twenty-six and the father of two children. His wife had died just two months earlier of a brain tumor. British officials say the settlement was accompanied by an official apology.
In other news from Britain, a new poll shows military morale is at record lows because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly half of British soldiers and officers say they’re ready to quit the military altogether. The percentage of servicemembers reporting low or very low morale ranged from 59 percent in the British army to 72 percent in the Royal Air Force.
The Washington Post is reporting the White House has decided it won’t take any action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions before President Bush leaves office. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to announce today it will continue to seek public comment on whether global warming poses a health risk rather than issue regulations. The decision essentially ignores a Supreme Court ruling ordering the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger the environment. Last month, it was revealed the White House refused to accept the EPA’s official response to the ruling by simply ignoring the email containing it. The ruling called greenhouse gases pollutants that should be regulated and controlled. EPA officials say the White House informed them the email containing the ruling would not be opened. Earlier this week, a government whistleblower revealed Vice President Dick Cheney’s office blocked discussion on the health threats of global warming by censoring testimony from the US Centers for Disease Control.
The news comes as President Bush has been overheard defiantly joking about his environmental record. As he was preparing to leave the G8 summit in Japan Thursday, Bush told fellow world leaders: “Goodbye, from the world’s biggest polluter.” Bush was widely criticized for refusing to accept global emissions targets at his final G8 summit as president.
On the campaign trail, Senator John McCain is trying to deflect a new controversy over comments by one of his top economic advisers. In an interview, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm dismissed worries over the economy, saying the United States is only in what he called “mental recession.” Gramm went on to say the US has become a “nation of whiners.” Gramm later refused to retract his comments, saying, “I’m not going to retract any of it. Every word I said was true.” Senator McCain took a different line, saying he “strongly disagrees” with Gramm.
Russia is continuing its campaign against a planned US missile system in Eastern Europe. On Thursday, Russian officials said Iran’s latest missile test proved the system isn’t needed because of the missiles’ limited range. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed Russian criticism and warned Iran the US would act to protect what she called US “interests.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “We are also sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and defend the interests of our allies. We’ve done that both by — I think you know that in the Gulf area the United States has enhanced its security capacity, its security presence, and we are working closely with all of our allies to make certain that they are capable of defending themselves. And we take very, very strongly our obligation to help our allies defend themselves, and no one should be confused about that.”
The US and the Czech Republic signed an agreement this week to host a US radar site. Negotiations continue with Poland to host US ballistic missiles. Majorities in both Poland and the Czech Republic have opposed the missile system, which is widely seen as a first-strike threat against Iran.
In Canada, a jailed American war resister is facing deportation back to the United States following his arrest last week. Robin Long was arrested in Nelson, British Columbia for allegedly failing to notify officials of an address change. Meanwhile, in Toronto, another American war resister, Corey Glass won a court victory Thursday when a judge ordered a temporary halt to deportation proceedings.
And on Capitol Hill, Congressmember Dennis Kucinich has introduced a single article of impeachment against President Bush. The article accuses Bush of deceiving Congress to authorize the invasion of Iraq. Kucinich says he introduced the measure in part to simplify the thirty-five articles of impeachment he introduced against Bush a month ago. This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested the House Judiciary Committee could soon take up the measure.