Senator John McCain closed out the Republican National Convention Thursday with a speech accepting his party’s nomination. McCain appealed to his image as an independent able to transcend party politics.
Sen. John McCain: “I fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust and they had to be held accountable. I’ve fought the big spenders — I’ve fought the big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want.”
McCain was twice interrupted by members of the peace group Code Pink. One protester was identified as Adam Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He carried a sign reading “You can’t win an occupation” on one side, and “McCain votes against vets” on the other. In his speech, McCain touted his support for President Bush’s so-called troop surge in Iraq.
Sen. John McCain: “I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq when it wasn’t the popular thing to do. And when the pundits said — and when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I’d rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.”
Outside the convention, protests continued on the RNC’s final day. Hundreds of people turned out for a rally organized by Youth Against War and Racism.
Protester: “The mission statement here today, I guess, is bring the troops home, end the unjust, illegal war for profit in Iraq. I guess, as an alternate also, do not elect John McCain this fall, because that would be a continuation of the same awful battle plan that we’ve experienced since 2003.”
Later in the day, up to 400 people were arrested in a protest near the State Capitol, about a mile from the convention site. Police used teargas and flash grenades against the crowd. Overall, more than 800 people have been arrested at anti-RNC protests in the Twin Cities this week. Nineteen media workers have also been jailed.
Shortly before Senator McCain gave his speech, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama appeared on the Fox News program The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly. It was Obama’s first appearance on Fox News since privately resolving a dispute with the channel that kept him away for several months. Obama and O’Reilly appeared to find common ground on several foreign policy issues, including Iran, Pakistan and the so-called US troop surge in Iraq.
Sen. Barack Obama: “Bill, what I’ve said is — I’ve already said it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”
Bill O’Reilly: “Right! So why can’t you just say, I was right in the beginning, and I was wrong about the surge?”
Sen. Obama: “Because there is an underlying problem with what we’ve done. We have reduced the violence…”
Sen. Obama: “…but the Iraqis still haven’t taken responsibility. And we still don’t have the kind of political reconciliation. We are still spending, Bill, $10 [billion] to $12 billion a month.”
O’Reilly: “And I hope, if you’re president, you can get them to kick in and pay us back.”
Sen. Obama: “They’ve got $79 billion in New York!”
O’Reilly: “And I’ll go with you!”
Sen. Obama: “Let’s go!”
O’Reilly: “We’ll get some of that money back.”
The jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been sentenced to an additional four-year term on top of his ongoing bid for tax evasion, fraud and bribing public officials. Abramoff will likely remain in prison until 2012. The sentence came despite a prosecution request for leniency because of Abramoff’s cooperation in helping to indict the lawmakers he bribed.
The Bush administration’s spying targets now apparently include the Iraqi government. A new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward says the White House has run an extensive spy program on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and several other Iraqi officials. Referring to Maliki, a White House source told Woodward, “We know everything he says.” Woodward also reports an October 2006 Iraq policy review was held in secret and without military involvement to avoid public scrutiny before the mid-term elections. Administration officials were said to be concerned news coverage would damage Republican candidates. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley led the review. He reportedly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “We’ve got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot.” Woodward also quotes from several interviews with President Bush. Bush told Woodward he let Stephen Hadley oversee the change in war strategy, at one point saying, “I’m not in these meetings, you’ll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do.” Woodward also says the former top US general in Iraq, General George Casey, privately blamed Bush for US troubles in Iraq. Casey reportedly told a colleague he believes Bush reflects “the radical wing of the Republican Party that kept saying, 'Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you’ll succeed.'” Woodward also reports of a consensus amongst some US officials that the drop in violence in Iraq is not the result of the so-called troop “surge” that began last year. Instead, officials told Woodward the primary factor was covert techniques used to locate and kill insurgent leaders. Other Iraq specialists, like the journalist Nir Rosen, have attributed the drop in violence to extensive ethnic cleansing that has left fewer people to kill.
Woodward’s disclosures come amidst news the Pentagon has advised President Bush against further troop withdrawals from Iraq this year. The latest military plan calls for delaying the planned withdrawal of up to 7,500 troops until February 2009 — after President Bush leaves office. The reduction would coincide with an almost equal increase of US troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, US forces have detained another Iraqi journalist. Baghdad TV camera operator Omar Hisham and three family members were seized when US troops broke into their home. Hisham’s mother described the raid.
Umm Omar: “I was preparing our pre-dawn meal for the holy month of Ramadan, when I heard voices that told us to evict the house. When we began to open the doors and put on our scarves and gowns, they bombed the door of the house. You saw the broken lock. They took my son Omar — he is a cameraman who works for a Baghdad channel — the father who suffers from a stroke, the youngest brother who is sick, and the eldest one. They did not leave anyone.”
The arrests come just two days after US troops detained a freelance Iraqi photographer at his home in the town of Mahmudiya. The photographer, Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, also had his equipment seized.
In military news, the Pentagon has admitted the Army suicide rate is on pace to break last year’s all-time record. Ninety-three active-duty soldiers had killed themselves by the end of last month. With nearly four months left this year, the number is well on pace to break last year’s record of 115 soldier suicides. It’s also on pace to surpass the suicide rate for the general population for the first time since the Vietnam War.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai visited the site of last month’s US bombing that killed some ninety Afghan civilians. An estimated sixty children were killed in the attack. The US maintains the death toll is lower and that most of the dead were militants. Karzai was met with an angry crowd demanding justice for the killing. Karzai said he had tried to curb US air strikes.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “I have been working day and night over the past five years to prevent such incidents, but I haven’t been successful in my efforts. If I had succeeded, the people of Azizabad wouldn’t be bathed in blood.”
Meanwhile, the uproar over a deadly US ground assault in neighboring Pakistan is growing. Pakistani officials say at least twenty civilians were killed after helicopters delivered a US-led unit into Pakistan. US forces are said to have fired inside three homes containing women and children. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned the attack.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi: “Yesterday, a regrettable, shameful and startling incident occurred in which the coalition forces, the ISAF forces, entered Pakistani territory and carried out an action. The government of Pakistan strongly condemns this act.”
The attack marks the first time the US has used ground troops inside Pakistan.
In Haiti, at least ninety people have been killed in Tropical Storm Hanna. Most of the dead came in Gonaives. The town lost around 3,000 people when a storm caused massive flooding in September 2004.
Gonaives Resident: “The whole city right now is under the water. And all those houses, even the people that got on top of houses, even on the top, the water right now at knee-level. And in all, there are more people die than four years ago. And nothing was done to prevent the same problem from happening again.”
The death toll from three weeks of storms in Haiti is now close to 200. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It’s especially vulnerable to flooding, because most of its trees have been cut down to make charcoal that is in turn used for fuel.
In Detroit, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has resigned after admitting he committed perjury to hide an affair with his chief of staff. Under a plea deal, Kilpatrick will spend four months in jail and pay a $1 million fine. Despite a five-year ban from running for office, the thirty-eight-year-old Kilpatrick vowed to stage a political comeback.
Attorneys for an American-educated Pakistani woman accused of trying to kill US personnel say years of imprisonment and torture may have left her mentally incompetent. Aafia Siddiqui is accused of trying to open fire on several FBI agents who had come to question her in Afghanistan. The FBI also says she had documents on making chemical bombs and a list of potential targets in the United States. But Afghan witnesses say US personnel shot Siddiqui following a misunderstanding that saw her initially asking them for help. On Thursday, defense attorney Elizabeth Fink asked a federal judge to order a full mental evaluation. Siddiqui disappeared in March 2003, just weeks after the FBI announced it sought her for questioning. There has been speculation she was captured by Pakistani troops and handed over to the US and held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Fink says she believes Siddiqui may have been released in a deliberate effort to set up the confrontation that got her arrested.
Vice President Dick Cheney continues his Caspian tour with a visit to Georgia. On Thursday, Cheney condemned Russia’s response to Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and pledged to win Georgian membership into NATO.
Vice President Dick Cheney: “America is fully committed to Georgia’s Membership Action Plan for NATO and to its eventual membership in the Alliance. The United States is very pleased with the recent establishment of a NATO-Georgia commission. As the current members of NATO declared at the summit in Bucharest, Georgia will be in our Alliance. NATO is a defensive alliance. It is a threat to no one. Indeed, NATO is one of the great forces for freedom, security and peace that the modern world has known.”
Georgia’s proposed membership in NATO has raised tensions with Russia. The move would violate an initial US promise to Russia not to expand NATO eastward.
And the UN is warning aid to poor nations is falling dangerously short of pledged amounts. A new report shows the drop in foreign aid has nearly doubled to 8.4 percent after a 4.7 percent drop in 2006. Africa has been hardest hit, receiving just $4 billion of more than $25 billion in promised aid.