Iraq’s foreign minister is claiming the Bush administration has agreed to lift immunity for private military contractors operating in Iraq. The foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, says the pledge is among several US concessions in ongoing talks on a long-term status of forces agreement for US troops. US negotiators, meanwhile, have reportedly refused Iraqi demands to also lift immunity for US troops. The White House has refused to comment on details of the talks. Previous Iraqi attempts to crack down on private military companies have failed. Blackwater Worldwide is still operating in Iraq despite Iraq’s ban on the company following the massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad last September.
The talk of apparent US concessions comes as the Los Angeles Times reports the Pentagon is conducting extensive spying on the Iraqi army. The US military has reportedly deployed some of its most sophisticated spy technology, including advanced satellites, to monitor the movements of Iraqi forces. The technology is normally used only to spy on forces deemed US adversaries. The spying was reportedly increased after US officials were caught off guard by an Iraqi deployment into Basra earlier this year.
The New York Times has revealed military trainers at Guantanamo Bay based an entire interrogation class on Chinese techniques used on US prisoners during the Korean War. The techniques have long been considered forms of torture, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” “exposure,” “semi-starvation,” “exploitation of wounds.” Some of the intended effects include “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist” and “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns.” The methods were also seen as widely ineffective, having obtained mostly false confessions. The techniques were outlined in a chart from a 1957 Air Force study entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War.” Some of the methods were used on Guantanamo prisoners until Congress banned the use of coercion in 2005.
The Pentagon is coming under criticism for considering a plan to ship deadly chemical weapons across state lines in at least four states. In a report released last week, the Pentagon says it will likely be unable to meet a pledge to destroy chemical weapons by the year 2017 unless it’s allowed to move nerve agents and mustard gas to additional sites. Lawmakers and watchdog groups say the proposal could endanger public safety. Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group said, “It’s shocking and irresponsible for the [Pentagon] to even propose to ship large volumes of weapons of mass destruction across the highways of the United States considering the risks and atmosphere of terrorist threats.”
In Israel, at least four people were killed and dozens wounded earlier today when a Palestinian man plowed a bulldozer into an Israeli bus in Jerusalem. An Israeli police officer shot and killed the driver. The bulldozer had left a construction site and driven against traffic on a busy main road.
The Peruvian government has recalled its ambassador to Bolivia after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused it of hosting a secret US military base. At a news conference, Peruvian President Alan Garcia dismissed Morales’ comments and accused him of interference in Peru’s sovereignty.
Peruvian President Alan Garcia: “Peru is a sovereign, important country. It’s a big country in the world, and so we can’t stand idly by as an outsider takes the liberty of provoking our country, let alone from the president of Bolivia himself. This whole thing, that there is a US base in Peru, is grounded in outrageous lies and manipulations.”
Garcia went on to call on Morales to “shut up.” Morales denounced Garcia’s comments and defended his criticism of US military bases.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I have personally experienced what it is like to live with a US military base — North American soldiers who are armed, wearing uniforms, who instruct our armed forces, who instruct the national police to participate in repressions, to participate in massacres. I have to share that experience with my Latin American brothers. It is an obligation of those who
Tensions between Peru and Bolivia have escalated since Peru signed a so-called “free trade” agreement with the US last year.
In Mexico, a controversy has erupted over the release of two police training videos showing officers practicing techniques critics say amount to torture. One video shows two officers pulling a man back by sticking their fingers in his mouth. Another man is shown being dragged by his feet through his own vomit. A man with an American accent appears on the video giving instructions to the officers. Another video shows a man having water squirted up his nostrils and shoved into a hole said to be full of rats and feces. The video’s release comes as US lawmakers are mulling a massive aid package that has been partially delayed over human rights concerns.
Back in the United States, the treatment of psychiatric patients is coming under new scrutiny following the release of surveillance video showing a mentally ill woman dying in a psychiatric emergency room after being left unattended. The woman, Esmin Green, is shown toppling to her knees before collapsing on her face. A full hour passes before she is attended to by passing hospital employees and found to have died. Kings County Hospital officials have also been accused of altering Green’s medical records to downplay her death. Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the hospital.
Beth Haroules: “We were absolutely appalled to receive medical documentation, kept in accordance with New York state law, that is completely contradicted by
video surveillance feeds.”
And on the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama is proposing to expand the White House program funding faith-based groups to conduct social services. On Tuesday, Obama unveiled a plan for a $500 million Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships program. Obama says his program would differ from Bush’s in being less partisan and applying more stringent policies against discrimination.