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The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has been forced out and replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. McKiernan is reportedly the first general to be dismissed from command of a theater of combat since Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.
The new commander, Stanley McChrystal, is viewed as an expert on counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare. As head of Special Operations, McChrystal oversaw a secretive program to hunt down and assassinate suspected terrorists around the globe. According to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the Joint Special Operations Command carried out assassinations in a dozen countries. Last year, lawmakers delayed Stanley McChrystal’s nomination for a key position because of questions about prisoner abuse by forces under his command. At least sixty-four service personnel assigned or attached to Special Operations units were disciplined for prisoner abuse between early 2004 and the end of 2007. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the change yesterday and said Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez will take responsibility for the day-to-day management of the war in Afghanistan.
Robert Gates: “The way I look at this is as McChrystal and Rodriguez as a team. They each bring tremendous skills in a variety of areas that are very pertinent to the kind of fight that we have in Afghanistan. And it is their combined skill set that I think gives us some fresh opportunities, looking forward.”
Lt. Gen. McChrystal ran special operations under General David Petraeus during the surge in Iraq. Fred Kaplan of Slate writes, “McKiernan’s ouster signals a dramatic shift in US strategy for the war in Afghanistan. And it means that the war is now, unequivocally, ’Obama’s war.’”
Earlier today in Afghanistan, about thirty Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests attacked government buildings in the Afghan city of Khost. At least six people died in the attacks.
Afghan lawmakers walked out of parliament Monday to protest the latest civilian casualties at the hands of US-led forces. Lawmakers are demanding legal restrictions be placed on US and coalition forces to prevent further civilian deaths.
In Pakistan, at least eight people have died after a US drone blew up a house in the South Waziristan district, near the Afghan border.
Five US soldiers died in Iraq Monday after a fellow soldier opened fire at a stress clinic at a US military base in Baghdad. The killings appear to be the single deadliest episode of soldier-on-soldier violence among US forces since the United States invaded Iraq six years ago.
The Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi was released from an Iranian jail Monday and has been reunited with her family. Her father Reza Saberi spoke to reporters after her release.
Reza Saberi: “Roxana is well and is staying at a relative’s home tonight. We are preparing to go. The exact date of our departure is not clear, but we should get ready for our trip to America.”
Roxana Saberi had been held since January.
The United States is continuing to imprison at least one journalist without charge. Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, has been held in Iraq since September despite objections from the Iraqi government, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders and Reuters. Unlike Saberi’s case, Jassam’s imprisonment has received little news attention in the United States.
A Libyan man whose fabricated testimony about al-Qaeda was used by the United States to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq has reportedly killed himself in his Libyan jail cell. Human rights groups are demanding an immediate investigation into the death of Ibn Shaykh al-Libi. After his capture in Afghanistan in 2001, US forces sent him to a prison in Egypt where he was tortured. After being beaten and subjected to a “mock burial” by his Egyptian interrogators, Libi made up the false claim that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda operatives. The Bush administration used Libi’s false testimony to make the case for invading Iraq. Al-Libi was later held in a secret overseas CIA prison. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said, “He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.” Former friends of Libi have cast doubt on his reported suicide, arguing that the former mosque preacher knew suicide was prohibited by Islam.
Meanwhile, a prisoner at Guantanamo tried to commit suicide on Sunday during a meeting with his attorney. The Yemeni man, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, used a piece of a table to cut a vein in his wrist. The prisoner then hurled blood at his attorney. Latif has been held at Guantanamo without charge since January 2002.
In Washington, President Obama met with a coalition of US health groups Monday after the groups pledged to cut rising health costs by $2 trillion over the next decade. The coalition representing doctors, hospitals, drug manufacturers, insurers and laborers had agreed to help reduce the rise in healthcare costs by 1.5 percentage points per year for ten years. None of the groups offered detailed specifics on how they would pare down costs. Single-payer advocate Kevin Zeese criticized the plan. He said, “The voluntary plan is a promise that can’t be enforced, and they’re talking about a 20 percent decrease in the expansion. That still means projected increases of nearly $2 trillion over the next ten years.” Zeese was arrested last week at a Senate Finance Committee hearing while protesting the committee’s exclusion of any advocates for single payer or Medicare-for-all. The Senate Finance Committee will hold another hearing on healthcare reform today. Committee chair Max Baucus has not invited any single-payer advocates to testify.
The Congressional Budget Office is estimating the federal deficit will reach a record $1.8 trillion this year. This means the government will have to borrow nearly fifty cents for every dollar it spends.
In other economic news, Goldman Sachs has agreed to a $60 million settlement to resolve claims by a Massachusetts regulator that it participated in predatory lending practices involving subprime mortgages.
On the second day of his Holy Land Tour, Pope Benedict XVI called for Israelis and Palestinians to engage in “a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace.” The Pope made the comment as he was visiting the most contentious site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and the adjacent Western Wall, the last remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. On Monday, a senior Palestinian Muslim cleric fiercely denounced Israeli policies in Jerusalem in the presence of Pope Benedict and appealed to the Pope to help end what he called the “crimes” of Israel. Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the chief judge of the Muslim religious courts in the Palestinian territories, spoke at a meeting between the Pope and Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy.
Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi: “Your Holiness the Pope, I call on you, in the name of the one God, to condemn these crimes and exert pressure on the Israeli government so it can stop its aggression against the Palestinian people and release thousands of prisoners from the occupation cells and demolish the racist separation wall, remove the settlements and return the confiscated land to its owners and stop the demolition of houses in Jerusalem and the eviction of its people, to form a just peace which would return the rights to its people.”
And one year ago today, federal immigration agents raided a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, arresting nearly 400 immigrant workers in what at the time was the largest immigration raid in US history. The raid devastated the town of Postville. The slaughterhouse owned by Agriprocessors has since closed down, taking with it hundreds of jobs. The number of vacant rental homes in Postville has soared. Half of the town’s population has left. The town’s mayor resigned earlier this year. Nearly all of the male workers arrested last year were deported. Many of the female workers have been allowed to stay to care for their children but are unable legally to work.