At least eight civilians have been killed in a US air strike in Afghanistan. It’s at least the third US attack to claim Afghan civilian lives in the last two weeks. The Afghan government says forty-seven civilians were killed in a US bombing last Sunday. The spike in deaths comes as the Pentagon has significantly intensified its air campaign in Afghanistan to the highest levels since 2003.
In other news from Afghanistan, US forces have withdrawn from an outpost where nine American soldiers were killed on Sunday. Militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at the base in the village of Wanat for hours. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Afghanistan in three years. Insurgents have moved into the village in what is being called a significant propaganda victory for the Taliban.
In Iraq, at least eighteen people have been killed in a car bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar. Another ninety people were left wounded. The attack targeted a popular outdoor market. US military leaders have repeatedly cited Tal Afar as a site of calm and stability in Iraq following extensive raids against insurgents.
In Lebanon, five former militants were welcomed with a massive rally in Beirut Wednesday following their release from Israeli prisons. The five were freed as part of a prisoner exchange that also saw Israel hand over the remains of around 200 militants in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. In a rare public appearance, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hailed the exchange as a major victory.
Hassan Nasrallah: “As we said in 2000, the age of defeat has passed, and the age of victory is upon us. This people, this nation, this country has today given a clear message to the world, to both friend and foe, that it cannot be defeated.”
More than 10,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners remain in Israeli jails. Israel attacked Lebanon in the summer of 2006 under the pretext of rescuing the soldiers following their capture in a Hezbollah operation. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the Independent of London correspondent Robert Fisk said, “The Israelis certainly lost that war. They did not get their prisoners back — not until now — and they’re getting them back dead… More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and more than 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, all died for absolutely nothing, and that’s what today’s prisoner exchanges prove.”
The Bush administration is reportedly planning on establishing a diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time in three decades. According to the Guardian of London, the White House will open a US interests section in Tehran next month. Last week, Undersecretary of State William Burns said the US was still deciding on the move. Burns is representing the US in six-party nuclear talks with Iran this week, another sign the Bush administration could be shifting towards more diplomacy with Iran.
The World Court has ordered the Bush administration to halt the execution of five Mexican nationals sentenced on death row in the United States. The ruling came in a case that has seen the Mexican government accuse the US of failing to inform Mexican death row prisoners of their right to consular assistance. In the ruling, presiding judge Rosalyn Higgins said the World Court needs more time to review the case.
Judge Rosalyn Higgins: “The United States of America shall take all measures necessary to ensure that Messrs. Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas, Cesar Roberto Fierro Reyna, Ruben Ramirez Cardenas, Humberto Leal Garcia and Roberto Moreno Ramos are not executed pending judgment on the request for interpretation submitted by the United Mexican States, unless and until these five Mexican nationals receive review and reconsideration.”
One of the five, Jose Medellin, is set for execution early next month.
Ecuador and Venezuela have signed an agreement to build a large oil refinery. The Refinery of the Pacific will have a daily capacity of 300,000 barrels of crude oil. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called the partnership a further step towards regional integration.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa: “It is a palpable demonstration that we can negotiate like brothers, that we can trust, that we can advance together, that we can overcome this silliness of competition between nations, so we can advance together the cooperation between nations.”
The Colombian government has admitted a military pilot falsely used the Red Cross symbol during the operation that rescued fifteen hostages of the rebel group FARC earlier this month. On Wednesday, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe apologized.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe: “When the officer confessed his mistake to his superiors, he said that as the helicopter was landing, he saw such a quantity of guerrillas that he became very nervous and that he was afraid for his life and that he took out of his pocket the piece of cloth with the symbol of the International Red Cross Committee logo that he carried in his pocket and put it on his bulletproof vest. We regret that this has occurred.”
Misusing the Red Cross symbol is considered a violation of the rules of war. It was the second controversy to surround the rescue mission. Colombian officials have denied initial reports FARC leaders were paid $20 million dollars for the hostages’ release.
On the campaign trail, Senator John McCain addressed the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Wednesday. McCain began by apologizing for declining an invitation to speak before the convention last year. He went on to highlight his support for private school vouchers.
Sen. John McCain: “When a public system fails repeatedly to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in their education of their children. Some parents — some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.”
McCain has previously come under criticism for voting against several education programs, including Head Start, Pell Grants, and Title I education grants.
On Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared for a second consecutive day of testimony Wednesday on the struggling US economy. Under questioning from Democratic Congressmember Joe Baca, Bernanke said he remains unsure if the US economy is in recession.
Rep. Joe Baca: “Do you believe that we are in a recession?”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke: “I don’t know, and I don’t know if the — in fact, I’m quite confident that the people who officially will determine that don’t know either. In the past —”
Rep. Baca: “But do you feel that the people that are impacting it feel that we’re in a recession?”
Bernanke:”Well, again I think I would not — I would not put much weight on this technical terminology. I mean, I think it’s clear that growth has been slow that the labor market is weak, and so conditions are tough on average families.”
President Bush has invoked executive privilege to prevent Congress from seeing several documents linked to the CIA leak case. The House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to hand over the documents, including the FBI report of an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. House Oversight Chair Henry Waxman says he may try to hold Mukasey in contempt of Congress.
And the Washington Post is reporting the Bush administration rejected five candidates for a top Justice Department position in favor of a loyalist who would back the White House on torture and executive power. In early 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft is said to have recommended the five candidates to head the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. Each of the candidates were Republicans and said to come with “impeccable credentials.” But hours after the list was submitted, President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales reportedly angrily demanded the promotion of Bush loyalist John Yoo. Ashcroft’s refusal created a tense standoff that ultimately led to the appointment of veteran Pentagon lawyer Jack Goldsmith.