At least twelve people have been killed in a suspected US drone attack in Pakistan. The strike hit a village in the Pakistani region of Northern Waziristan.
The New York Times, meanwhile, has revealed the private military firm Blackwater has played a major role in the US drone attack program. The CIA has used Blackwater contractors to assemble and load missiles and bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft. The CIA drone attacks have targeted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but the vast majority of its casualties have been civilian. The New York Times says Blackwater is not involved in selecting or firing on targets. But its work in loading the munitions has been criticized as faulty when bombs have radically missed their targets. Some of the drones were operated out of a newly disclosed US air base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The US began using the base out of concern it would be forced out of Pakistan. The news comes one day after the New York Times also revealed Blackwater was hired for the secret CIA program to assassinate terrorist suspects. On Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said the CIA’s failure to brief Congress on the program marked “a violation of law.”
The latest disclosures also come just days before the CIA is set to declassify parts of an internal report questioning the legality and effectiveness of its torture program at secret prisons overseas. On Thursday, former CIA and National Security Agency director General Michael Hayden said the report will show the torture program failed to uncover any imminent attacks on the United States. The report’s release was ordered in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s expected to bolster calls for Attorney General Eric Holder to probe CIA officers and contractors who carried out torture. Also Thursday, former CIA director Porter Goss said, “In September, you are going to have a hurricane coming through Washington that is aimed right at the intelligence community.”
ABC News meanwhile has revealed Lithuania was one of the Eastern European nations to host a secret CIA prison. A former Soviet state, Lithuania was said to have provided the site in the hopes of improving ties with the United States. A former intelligence official said the CIA held around eight prisoners in Lithuania until the secret prison program was publicly exposed in 2005.
The Washington Post is reporting three military attorneys at Guantanamo Bay have been questioned for allegedly showing pictures of CIA operatives to prisoners accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. Military officials say the lawyers could have broken laws shielding the identity of classified intelligence. The lawyers were apparently trying to identify agents who may have been involved in torturing prisoners at US jails overseas. American Civil Liberties Union director Anthony Romero criticized the focus on the attorneys, saying, “Rather than investigate the CIA officials who undertook the torture, they are now investigating the military lawyers who have courageously stepped up to defend these clients in sham proceedings.”
Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge is claiming top Bush administration officials pressured him to raise the national “terror alert” level to sway the November 2004 elections. In a forthcoming book, Ridge writes that he rebuffed pleas from cabinet members, including then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, to raise the color-coded threat level just days before the vote. The alleged request came as President George W. Bush was in a tight race with Democratic nominee John Kerry. Ridge also says he rejected earlier administration requests to publicly suggest the invasion and occupation of Iraq had helped protect the United States.
In Iraq, at least forty people were killed and more than 220 wounded Thursday in a series attacks south of Baghdad. The attacks come one day after more than 100 people were killed and 500 wounded in Iraq’s worst coordinated bombings in eighteen months.
In Afghanistan, vote counting is underway following Thursday’s national elections. At least twenty-six people were killed in election day violence. The Taliban had threatened to attack those turning out to vote. Afghanistan’s election authority, meanwhile, said it received around forty complaints of voting irregularities, including instances of officials pressuring voters to select Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Both Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, have claimed victory, but they’re expected to square off in a second round of voting.
In Honduras, an estimated 5,000 people marched in the capital Tegucigalpa Thursday in support of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Protester Augusto Jimenez said the marches will continue until Zelaya is restored to office.
Augusto Jimenez: “We’re protesting in the streets because we’re condemning the brutal coup on the Honduran people. We’re asking for the restitution of our president, who was elected by the majority of the Honduran people. The only way that we will stop this resistance is for President Zelaya to once again return to power in our country.”
Iran has reportedly lifted a year-long ban on UN inspections at a number of Iranian nuclear sites. International diplomats say inspectors were granted permission to visit several sites last week.
In other Iran news, the families of three Americans who were arrested in Iran this month are calling for their loved ones to be released. The three are believed to have mistakenly crossed over into Iran while hiking in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The detained Americans have been identified as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. Shane Bauer is a freelance journalist who has written for The Nation magazine and the Pacific News Service. On Thursday, Bauer’s sister, Shannon Bauer, urged the Iranian government to allow the three to hear from their families.
Shannon Bauer: “I think it’s really important at this point that we let people know why they were there, to go hiking, and that these are three incredible people and that we miss them a lot, and we at least want to be able to talk to them and hear their voices and know that they’re OK.”
The State Department has asked Iran to let the three Americans meet with Swiss diplomats. Switzerland acts as the informal US representative in Iran.
The Scottish government has released a Libyan agent who was jailed for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. Abdel al-Megrahi was the lone suspect convicted for the attack, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Scotland ordered his release on compassionate grounds because he has terminal cancer. President Obama said the US opposes the move.
President Obama: “We have been in contact with the Scottish government indicating that we objected to this and we thought it was a mistake. We’re now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that, if in fact this transfer has taken place, that he is not welcomed back in some way, but instead should be under house arrest.”
Megrahi returned to Libya on Thursday. In a statement read by his attorney, Megrahi maintained his innocence.
Tony Kelly: “I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out, until my diagnosis of cancer. To those victims’ relatives who can bear to hear me say this, they continue to have my sincere sympathy for their unimaginable loss that they have suffered. To those who bear me ill will, the only thing I can say is that I do not return that to you.”
In California, a former US soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has been found dead along with his girlfriend in an apparent murder-suicide. Family members say the soldier, Jacob Gregory Swanson, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental problems as a result of his time in combat. His girlfriend, Amy Rochelle Salo, was the mother of three children. An estimated eighty-eight soldiers took their lives in the first half of this year, on pace to break last year’s record of up to 143 soldier suicides.
A federal judge has ruled the US wrongly froze the assets of a Ohio-based Muslim charity three years ago. KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development was shut down after the US suspected it had ties to the Palestinian group Hamas. But this week, US District Judge James Carr said the move was illegal because the government failed to provide the charity with any notice.
And the Federal Communications Commission has announced a wide-ranging probe into the nation’s wireless industry. The FCC will look at issues including market competition and the legitimacy of additional fees charged to subscribers.