U.S. Bombings in Iraq Increased Fivefold in 2007
New figures from the Pentagon show the U.S. carried out fives times as many aerial
bombings in Iraq last year as it did in 2006. According to the Washington Post, U.S.
forces dropped more than fourteen-hundred bombs—an average of nearly four a day. The
2006 total was two-hundred-twenty-nine bombs—an average of four per week. The UN estimates
at least two hundred civilians were killed in U.S. bombings from April until the end
of the year. The figures come as the U.S. continues an extensive bombing campaign
over Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. In one of the largest strikes since the 2003 invasion,
U.S. warplanes dropped forty-thousand pounds of bombs in a ten-minute span one week
ago. Military experts are predicting an increase in the bombing should the U.S. drawn
down its forces in Iraq. Airstrikes are also at record levels in Afghanistan. NATO
bombings topped thirty-five hundred last year, doubling the number for 2006.
Justice Dept. Warns of No Charges in Blackwater Killing
The Justice Department is downplaying expectations of criminal prosecutions in last
September’s killings of seventeen Iraqi civilians by the private military firm Blackwater
Worldwide. The New York Times reports the Justice Department told lawmakers in a private
briefing last month that it may not file any charges against Blackwater or the individual
guards. Justice Department officials said they face major legal obstacles. Four months
after the shooting and nearly five years into the Iraq invasion, it remains unclear
whether Blackwater is subjected to any legal jurisdiction for its operations in Iraq.
State Department investigators also granted Blackwater guards immunity in return for
their testimony in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. In a new report, the group
Human Rights First blames the lack of prosecutions on a lack of political will rather
than legal uncertainty. The report says: “The U.S. government’s reaction to the shootings
has been characterized by confusion, defensiveness, a multiplicity of uncoordinated
ad hoc investigations, and interagency finger-pointing. These failures underscored
the Justice Department’s unwillingness or inability to systematically investigate
and prosecute allegations of serious violent crimes.” Blackwater is being sued in
a civil case brought on behalf of some of the victims’ families.
RTI, Unity Resources Sued for Fatal Shooting of Iraqi
Meanwhile Democracy Now! has learned that another Western contractor is being sued
for the fatal shooting of an Iraqi civilian. Lawyers for the family of Marani Awanis
Mannok have filed suit against the contractor RTI International and the private military
firm Unity Resources Group. The suit alleges Unity Resources guards shot and killed
Manook and another Iraqi woman, Genevia Jalal Antranick, last October. Manook was
the mother of three children. The suit calls the killings a “senseless slaughter…
in a pattern of egregious misconduct.” The North Carolina-based RTI has hired Unity
Resources to provide security for its operations in Iraq. RTI has received hundreds
of millions in U.S. government contracts for its Iraq work.
3 Palestinian Civilians Killed in Ongoing Israeli Airstrikes
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel is continuing its latest assault on
the Gaza Strip while Palestinian militants intensify rocket fire on Israeli towns.
Three Palestinian civilians including a thirteen-year old were killed Wednesday when
an Israeli missile hit their car. Israel called the attack an ‘error’ and said it
was targeting militants. The killings came one day after nineteen Palestinians lost
their lives—the highest single-day Palestinian death toll in more than a year. Meanwhile
Palestinian rockets continue to hit nearby Israeli towns. Israel says eighteen rockets
landed in Israel today, causing two slight injuries. Israel has continued attacks
on Gaza after rejecting a truce offer from Hamas last month. Speaking from Syria,
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said Israel was sabotaging any chances of a
Khaled Meshaal: “What you are doing will prevent you from any movement
you may bet on. No exchange involving Gilad Shalit and no ceasefire. This Palestinian
blood will shorten the life of Israel and will not bring you security or
peace. There is no peace with killers and no security with criminals.”
The Gaza attacks also come just days after President Bush visited the region to promote
U.S.-backed talks. Earlier today Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said
negotiations with Israel are pointless so long as the assault on Gaza continues. Meanwhile
President Bush was in Egypt Wednesday to conclude his Middle East tour. Despite okaying
the continued Israeli raids on Gaza and expanded settlements in the West Bank, Bush
said the world should be encouraged at the prospects for peace because he is optimistic.
President Bush: “When I say I’m coming back to stay engaged, I mean
it. And when I say I’m optimistic we can get a deal done, I mean what I’m saying.”
Bush’s trip to Egypt lasted just four hours. Hundreds of Egyptian lawyers gathered
in Cairo to protest his visit. The Washington Post reports of growing resentment from
Arab pro-democracy activists who say Bush has abandoned previous rhetorical promises
to support democracy efforts in the Middle East. Bush made no public criticism of
Saudi Arabia or Egypt’s crackdown on dissidents during his trip.
Kenyan Police Fire on Protesters
In Kenya, police have opened fire on opposition protests against a disputed election
for the second straight day. Police fire killed at least four demonstrators on Wednesday.
More than six-hundred people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced
since President Mwai Kibaki beat out challenger Raila Odinga last month in a highly
Czech Republic: Deal Close on U.S. Missile Shield
The Czech Republic has announced its close to signing the opening agreements on hosting
the Bush administration’s proposed European missile shield. The administration calls
the shield a defense measure against a potential attack from Iran but it’s widely
seen as a first-strike weapon. Public opinion polls continue to show majority opposition
to the missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, the other planned host. The
Polish government is asking the U.S. to finance Poland’s own military air expansion
in return for its involvement.
Anti-Whaling Activists Captured, Held on Japanese Ship
In the South Ocean, two anti-whaling activists have been captured and detained aboard
a Japanese whaling vessel. The activists are members of the Sea Sheperd Conservation
Society. They were held after boarding the Japanese ship to deliver a letter protesting
Japan’s whaling practices. Australia’s Federal Court has ordered Japan to stop hunting
and killing whales anywhere around its coastline or off Australian Antarctic territory.
Sea Shepherd director Jonny Vafic said the activists are being held in virtual prison-like
Jonny Vafic: “They have basically, have been tied to the rails for
several hours in the freezing cold and they were taken down and locked into a room.”
Japanese whaling authorities say the activists had tried to vandalize the ship. The
Australian government is calling on Japan to secure the pair’s release.
Admin Exempts Navy From Sonar Ban
The Bush administration has exempted the Navy from two key environmental laws that
limit the use of sonar. The decision overrides a court ruling in a case brought by
environmentalists who say sonar is harmful to whales and other marine mammals. Environmentalists
say the move could lead to a major legal standoff over how far the military can go
in ignoring environmental law.
Obama Appears to Laud Reagan for Confronting 1960-70s
In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama is coming under criticism for appearing to
slight the civil rights and feminist movements while expressing admiration for former
President Ronald Reagan. In an interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette,
Obama lauded Reagan’s challenge to what Obama called the “excesses” of the 1960s and
Senator Barack Obama: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory
of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did
not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for
it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government
had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how
it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling,
which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism
and entrepreneurship that had been missing."
Obama did not specify what he believes those “excesses” were. But Reagan is widely
credited with leading a right-wing backlash against the gains of the civil rights
and feminist movements that preceded his 1980 election.
Admin: Emails May Be Lost to “Recycled” Tapes
The Bush administration is claiming to have used “recycled” tapes to record email
messages during its first three years in office. The White House says the practice
could mean some correspondences have been lost because of an overlap in the tape use.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security
Archive have filed suit over what they says are millions of missing White House email
messages that should be on the public record.
Virginia Measure Would OK Firings of Non-English Speaking
In Virginia, a state measure has been introduced that would allow employers to fire
workers and deny them unemployment benefits if they don’t speak English on the job.
Bill sponsor State Senator Ken Cuccinelli says the bill is aimed at workers who must
interact with the public, such as sales clerks and receptionists. Immigrant rights
activists say the bill could lead to firings of workers who speak any language other
than English during a break or over the phone to a relative.
U.S. Abortions at Thirty-Year Low
The number of abortions performed in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level in thirty
years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1.2 million abortions were performed
Emergency Heating Funds Cover Just 16% of Eligible Homes
The Bush administration has released $450 million in emergency money to help low-income
families cover rising heating costs this winter. Despite the new funds, the Low Income
Home Energy Assistance Program says it only has enough money to cover 16 percent of
the 38 million eligible low-income households.
Anti-Fascist Commander Milton Wolff Dies at 92
And Milton Wolff, the last commander of American volunteers who fought against the
Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, has died. More than 2700 Americans went to Spain
in defiance of the U.S. government to serve in what they called the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade. Wolff was 22 years old when he became the brigade’s last commander. He went
on to become active in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements. In the 1980s
Wolff personally delivered ambulances to the Nicaraguan government when the Reagan
administration was trying to overthrow it. Milton Wolff died this week at the age
Something special in honor of MLK
The network is moving soon! Come see the new digs!
Private Reply to Danielle (Dani) Cutler