President Obama has decided to abandon the Bush administration’s so-called “missile-defense” system in Eastern Europe. The Wall Street Journal reports the White House based its decision on an assessment that Iran’s long-range missile program hasn’t significantly progressed. The move marks one of the Obama administration’s sharpest reversals of a major Bush administration foreign policy to date. The Bush White House claimed the missile system was intended to thwart a potential Iranian attack. But critics widely denounced it as a first-strike weapon for hitting Iran or other targets. Although it’s halted the program, the White House is reportedly open to a revival if Iran’s capabilities improve.
In Afghanistan, at least ten Afghan civilians and six Italian troops were killed in a suicide bombing earlier today. It was the fourth major attack to hit the Afghan capital of Kabul in five weeks. In Washington, meanwhile, President Obama said he has yet to decide on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
President Obama: “There is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources. You don’t make determinations about resources, and certainly you don’t make determinations about sending young men and women into battle, without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be.”
The Obama administration is increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to open its oilfields to foreign companies and thwart a referendum on an early US withdrawal. In meetings with Iraqi officials Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly expressed his opposition to a national referendum on whether to approve the US-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA. The agreement calls for a US withdrawal by the end of 2011. But if Iraqis reject the timetable, US troops would be forced to leave nearly one year earlier. The Washington Post reports Biden also pressed Iraqi leaders on altering oil laws to allow more foreign investment.
In other Iraq news, an unarmed Iraqi man was killed by US forces in Fallujah Wednesday after throwing his shoe at their convoy. The military says the soldiers opened fire thinking the shoe was a grenade. The shooting came one day after the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi was released from prison after a nine-month term for throwing his shoes at former President George W. Bush.
The US meanwhile has closed Camp Bucca, once its largest prison in Iraq. The Pentagon says it’s transferred Bucca’s remaining 180 prisoners to two jails near Baghdad. US Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth King said the prison’s closure comes as part of the US-Iraq security deal.
Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth King: “As a show of progress for the security agreement and moving forward the government of Iraq, we’re going to put the theater internment facility as a piece of history. And we’re going to — it will be history, and we’ll move forward from here and progress.”
Camp Bucca once hosted thousands of prisoners without charge, with many allegations of torture and abuse by US guards.
The private military firm Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the 2007 massacre of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Attorneys representing the families of several dead victims as well as three victims wounded in the attack filed the case in North Carolina. The attorneys say they’ve uncovered evidence Blackwater failed to take action despite prior government warnings over earlier fatal shootings of Iraqi civilians. Yesterday marked the Nisoor Square massacre’s second anniversary.
The nation’s top intelligence official has revealed the US has spent $75 billion over the past year on intelligence operations worldwide. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said the US also has some 200,000 intelligence employees. Blair’s comments marked a rare disclosure of figures generally kept under wraps. The intelligence spending more than doubles the $32.8 billion budget for the State Department and foreign aid.
The UN’s global relief agency is warning food aid has fallen to a twenty-year low despite the number of critically hungry reaching its highest level ever. The World Food Program says it’s facing a more than $4 billion shortfall for its $6.7 billion budget. The number of hungry people is expected to pass one billion this year for the first time.
The Obama administration has formally extended the US embargo of Cuba. In a memo last week, President Obama authorized a one-year extension of Cuba’s designation as a hostile nation under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The memo says continuing the embargo is “in the national interest of the United States.” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticized Obama’s stance.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez: “Obama was a president elected on the platform of change. North Americans voted for him because he promised to make changes. Where is the change on the Cuban embargo? There are no changes. It’s true there is less aggression, a less aggressive discourse against Cuba. It’s true these specific measures have been taken, but of extremely limited reach, totally insufficient, that don’t have anything to do with the embargo against Cuba.”
Obama recently eased some restrictions on Cuba, now allowing Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances there.
The US is again accusing Bolivia and Venezuela of failing to curb drug trafficking within their borders. In an annual report, the State Department said both countries had “failed demonstrably” in the drug fight. Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the US of hypocrisy and politicizing the issue.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Instead of having the United States certify or decertify us, why doesn’t UNASUR certify or decertify the United States? We also want to know if there is a battle against drug trafficking in the United States. Why don’t they break bank secrecy? They can do that. I ask myself, why do they forbid us to buy small planes with radars, which would allow us to fight in a more effective way against drug trafficking?”
Recent UN figures show cocaine production in Bolivia rose just five percent in 2007. Colombia, which has received billions in US aid, saw an increase of 27 percent the same year.
In Canada, activists with the environmental group Greenpeace have ended a blockade of a large oil sands mine after one-and-a-half days. The activists had locked themselves to a massive dump truck and mining shovel, forcing owners to suspend operations. Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Mike Hudema said tar sand extraction should be banned.
Mike Hudema: “The tar sands are the largest industrial project on the face of the planet. They emit more emissions than entire countries. By 2020, they’ll emit more emissions than the entire Czech Republic, twice as much as Peru, and over ten times that of Costa Rica. At a time when we’re in a global climate crisis, when over 300,000 people will die this year because of climate change, a million more will become climate refugees, a project like this simply can’t go on.”
A federal appeals court has ruled a woman who says she was gang-raped by co-workers of the war contractor KBR can pursue her case in open court. Jamie Leigh Jones sued KBR and its former parent company Halliburton over claims she was drugged and gang-raped by co-workers in Baghdad. Jones also accused the company of keeping her in a shipping container without food or water for at least twenty-four hours after the alleged crime took place. This week, a three-judge panel rejected KBR’s attempt to have the case handled in private arbitration instead of a courtroom.
In Texas, a death row prisoner has been denied a new trial despite the admission his trial judge and prosecutor were romantically involved. On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Charles Dean Hood’s request on the grounds his attorneys didn’t cite the judge-prosecutor affair in their initial appeal. Hood was granted a last-minute reprieve last year when another prosecutor came forward to confirm the affair. Hood’s defense team calls the latest ruling an “outrage” and says it plans to appeal.
A former coal miner has become the new president of AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the United States. Richard Trumka is the AFL-CIO’s first new president in fourteen years.
New figures show global ocean temperatures have reached an all-time recorded high. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says ocean temperatures averaged 62.5 degrees Fahrenheit from June through August, the most ever for a three-month period.
And the folk singer Mary Travers has died at the age of seventy-two. Travers was one-third of the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.