war crimes

Condi Rice Comes to Town; Press Focuses on her Piano Skills

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Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will be speaking in Grand Rapids on Monday at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ annual dinner. As is always the case with these events, they are limited to members of the Economic Club and their guests, with makes it so that ordinary folks generally can’t see what these former government officials say. Moreover, when they are in town to speak about their experiences while in government, citizens deserve a chance to know what is said. Ideally, that is a role that media can play.

But, I doubt we’ll get much serious coverage from The Grand Rapids Press or the other local media in town. In advance of her appearance, The Grand Rapids Press has focused on her piano skills:

She won’t be tickling the ivory, but Economic Club of Grand Rapids officials still are excited to hear from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. There had been quiet hopes the 1,500-plus attendees would hear a piano performance from Rice, dubbed the world’s most prominent amateur musician by The New York Times in 2006. Club Executive Director Lorna Schultz said she was disappointed, but organizers just couldn’t work it out. Still, the crowd for the club’s 22nd annual dinner will be the fourth largest on record.

You would think that they would focus on her record–particularly as it relates to torture. A group of students at Stanford recently campaigned for Condoleezza Rice–a faculty member–to be prosecuted for war crimes:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

For those who want to learn more about Condoleezza Rice’s record, a profile of her on SourceWatch.org has a good critical overview of her career, particularly with regard to her role in selling the Iraq War. It’s also worth reading recent news articles about her giving specific approval of torture.

Headlines: Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions; General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

Democracy Now Headlines: Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions; General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

General Motors Declares Bankruptcy

General Motors is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today in what is expected to be one of the largest and most complex bankruptcy cases ever. The bankruptcy filing caps a remarkable fall for the 100-year-old company which was once the world’s largest car manufacturer. Under the proposed restructuring plan, the U.S. government will invest another $30 billion in GM and take ownership of 60 percent of the company. The Canadian government, a union health trust and current bondholders would own the rest. The restructuring will result in the lost of 21,000 more jobs, the shuttering of at least 12 factories, and the closing of 2,600 car dealers. President Obama is expected to outline the proposed restructuring in a speech today. Administration officials said the government will remove itself from day-to-day operations of GM once a new management team is in place. Congressman Denis Kucinich of Ohio urged the White House not to subsidize GM’s overseas growth at the expense of U.S. workers. In a statement Kucinich said: “We must not allow GM to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to close plants in America in order to open markets for products made in China and other countries.” Residents of Detroit said they were saddened and anxious by the bankruptcy of GM.

Mary Ann Bielaczyc, Detroit area resident: “They are all scared. Their day to day existence is depending on this. I have a brother who is a contract worker for GM and he never knows from one day to the next if he is going to have a job. My next door neighbor’s son works for GM, or used to, found out his job was eliminated. It’s scary.”

In other auto news, a federal judge has cleared a path for Chrysler to get out of bankruptcy by approving a sale of most of the company’s assets to a new entity to be run by the Italian company Fiat.

Anti-Abortion Activist Arrested in Killing of Kansas Doctor

In Kansas, police have arrested a 51-year-old anti-abortion activist in connection to the murder of Doctor George Tiller. Tiller was shot dead Sunday as he attended services at his church in Wichita. The National Abortion Federation says Dr. Tiller is the eighth abortion provider to be assassinated in the United States since 1977. President Obama said he is “shocked and outraged” by Tiller”s killing. US Marshals are now being deployed to protect women’s health clinics and doctors across the nation. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.

Report: Global Warming Causes 300,000 Deaths Each Year

A new report by the Global Humanitarian Forum estimates global warming is causing more than 300,000 deaths each year. The report is considered to be the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming. The Global Humanitarian Forum is a think tank headed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general. If emissions are not brought under control, within 25 years, the organization estimates 310 million more people will suffer adverse health consequences related to temperature increases, 20 million more people will fall into poverty and 75 million extra people will be displaced by climate change.

White House To Create “Cyber Czar” Position

President Obama has announced plans to create a White House-level position of “cyber czar” to coordinate and oversee federal efforts to improve network security and response to cyber attacks.

President Obama: “It’s now clear this cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. It’s also clear that we’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country.”

Obama also said that his administration would not dictate cybersecurity standards for private companies and that he was committed to protecting the privacy of Americans.

President Obama: “Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not–I repeat, will not include–monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be–open and free.”

Military Contractors Hired To Wage Cyberwarfare

Meanwhile the New York Times reports the military is now spending billions of dollars hiring defense contractors or so-called hacker soldiers to help wage cyberwarfare. Nearly all of the largest military companies ? including Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon ? have received major cyber contracts with the military and intelligence agencies.

Pakistan Forces Retake City of Mingora in Swat Valley

Pakistani forces have retaken the city of Mingora after a bloody clash with Taliban fighters. Mingora is the main city in the Swat Valley. Red Cross officials said Pakistani civilians in the region are in dire need of aid. Houses have no running water, no power and food is scarce. The fighting has forced 3 million people to flee their homes.

Petraeus Admits U.S. Violated Geneva Conventions

The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, admitted in TV interview that the United States has violated the Geneva Conventions. Petraeus made the comment while expressing support for President Obama’s decision to ban certain extreme interrogation techniques, but he did not specifically say which parts of the Geneva Conventions had been violated.

General David Petraeus: “When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it’s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.”

Obama Urges Court Not To Release Uighurs Into U.S.

The Obama administration has urged the Supreme Court to reject a petition filed by 14 Chinese Uighurs held at Guantánamo seeking their release into the United States. The Uighurs are still being held at Guantanamo even though they are no longer consider enemy combatants. In a brief filed on Friday the Obama White House backed the Bush administration’s claim that the court does not have the power to order the Uighurs released into the United States.

White House Sides With Saudi Royal Family in 9/11 Lawsuit

The Obama administration is also urging the Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit filed against the Saudi royal family brought by families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The lawsuit accuses Saudi Arabia of helping to finance Al Qaeda prior to the attacks that were carried out by 19 men, including 15 Saudis. The Justice Department filed the brief on Friday, less than a week before President Obama is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah.

Obama Defends Sotomayor Nomination In Response to GOP Attacks

In his weekly radio address, President Obama defended his decision Saturday to nominate federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court after days of attacks by Republican lawmakers and activists. If confirmed Sotomayor would become the first Latina to serve on the high court.

President Obama: “There are, of course, some in Washington who are attempting to draw old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor’s record. But I am confident that these efforts will fail; because Judge Sotomayor’s seventeen-year record on the bench-hundreds of judicial decisions that every American can read for him or herself-speak far louder than any attack; her record makes clear that she is fair, unbiased, and dedicated to the rule of law.”

Limbaugh and Tancredo Accused Sotomayor Of Being Racist

Over the past five days several high-profile Republicans have attacked a 2001 speech by Sonia Sotomayor in which she asserted that as a Latina woman, she would offer wiser judgments than a white male judge in some cases. Last week talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused Sotomayor of being a racist.

Rush Limbaugh: “She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court… How can a president nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.”

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo compared Sotomayor’s past membership in the Latino advocacy group La Raza to being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Tom Tancredo: If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino — it’s a counterpart — a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that’s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it’s got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is “All for the race. Nothing for the rest.”

In response, La Raza accused Tancredo of defaming the organization and for making up the organization’s motto.

U.S. and Cuba To Hold Talks

In news from Latin America, the United States and Cuba have agreed to resume direct talks on migration and open discussions on reestablishing direct mail service between the two countries.. Official talks between the two countries were last held in 2003.

7,000 Indigenous Activists Gather in Peru

Some 7,000 indigenous activists gathered in Peru Friday to show support for Amazon tribes who are protesting against a package of laws they say will threaten their native lands. Thousands of Amazon Indians have been on strike for more than a month over a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. Miguel Palacin helped organize the fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous People.

Miguel Palacin: “The government of Peru is really going against the rights of native people. The indigenous territories are being handed over to mining companies, oil companies and loggers, and today, after a 49-day protest by the indigenous people, there is still no answer. We have an unstable government and from here we will send a message to the world to say that this government disregards the indigenous people.”

Six Killed After Abbas-Backed Forces Raid Hamas Hideout

In the West Bank, six people were killed on Sunday when forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raided a Hamas hideout just days after Abbas met with President Obama. It was the bloodiest internal Palestinian clash in the West Bank since 2007. After the raid, Hamas threatened to call off Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks with Fatah that had been scheduled to resume in Cairo in July.

President Of Ohio State Resigns From Board of Massey Energy

The president of Ohio State University has resigned resigned from the board of directors of Massey Energy after coming under pressure from opponents of mountaintop removal coal mining. Gordon Gee had served on the board of Massey since 2000. Massey Energy is one of the biggest companies using mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Los Angeles School District Cancels Summer School Programs

In education news, the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced it is canceling most of its summer school programs due to the district’s budget crisis. Almost all summer school classes as well as playground and pool programs are being canceled at the district’s elementary and middle schools. Meanwhile dozens of Los Angeles school teachers are staging a hunger strike to protest budget cuts.

Air France Plane Carrying 288 Missing Off Coast of Brazil

And an Air France plane carrying 228 people from Brazil to France has gone missing over the Atlantic. A search and rescue mission is under way off the coast of Brazil.

Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos' Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of '04 Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release

The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at U.S. prisons overseas. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal appeals court to block the photos on the grounds they would incite violence against U.S. troops. The administration’s court filing cited two secret statements from top U.S. generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, who have both lobbied for blocking the photos’ release.

Admin Denies Photos Depict Rape, Sexual Abuse

The move came one day after the head of the Abu Ghraib inquiry, Major General Antonio Taguba, said the photos include images of the rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the claim.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “I think the Pentagon has been very clear in a statement saying that the story is not true. I want to speak generally about some reports I’ve witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways, I’m surprised it filtered down.”

Anti-Torture Activists Call for Prosecutions, Photos’ Release

Meanwhile here in New York, anti-torture activists with the group World Can’t Wait held a protest at Grand Central Station calling for the photos’ release. Protesters donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods similar to those worn by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Samantha Goldman of World Can’t Wait rejected the Obama administration’s argument for censoring the photos.

Samantha Goldman: “What enflames anti-American sentiment is U.S. military bases around the world, what enflames anti-U.S. sentiment is torture, is what we’re actually going over there to do. That’s what enflames anti-American sentiment, prosecuting the criminals, which, to do that, you need the photos to be released, to actually prosecute Bush era criminals, you would need to have the photos as evidence.”

Report: Cables Indicate Doctor Role in Zubaydah Torture

The investigative website ProPublica is reporting a team of doctors may have been involved in monitoring the torture of suspected al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002. Secret CIA cables contain several ‘medical updates’ on Zubaydah’s interrogation, where he was waterboarded at least 83 times. The updates contain detailed information that suggests doctors actively monitored the waterboarding in what would be a violation of medical ethics.

Obama Renews Call for Israeli Settlement Freeze

President Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Thursday for their first formal talks. Obama criticized the Israeli government for rejecting his call to stop expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, but also expressed tacit support for the Palestinian Authority’s repression of opposition groups in the West Bank through its U.S.-trained security forces.

President Obama: “On the Israeli side those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side it’s going to be important and necessary to continue to take the security steps on the West Bank that President Abbas has already begun to take, working with General Dayton. We’ve seen great progress in terms of security in the West Bank.”

The Israeli government has put itself at odds with Obama over its refusal to end settlement growth and accept the principle of Palestinian statehood. Abbas said the key to peace lies in Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President, I believe that the entire Arab world and the Islamic world, they are all committed to peace. We’ve seen that through the Arab League Peace Initiative that simply talks about land for peace as a principle. I believe that if the Israelis would withdraw from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese land, the Arab world will be ready to have normal relationships with the state of Israel.”

Report: 20,000 Civilians Killed in Sri Lanka Conflict’s Final Weeks

The Times of London is reporting more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s attack on Tamil Tiger rebels–three times the official figure. Citing what it says are secret UN documents, the Times says around 1,000 people were killed every day from late April until the conflict ended ten days ago. The Sri Lankan military was accused of indiscriminately shelling no-fire zones, including two attacks on a major hospital. Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields. The Times says the evidence strongly supports allegations most of the civilians were killed by Sri Lankan military attacks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an independent probe of war crimes during the conflict.

13 Killed in Pakistan Attacks

In Pakistan, thirteen people were killed Thursday in militant attacks targeting police officers. It was the second straight day of gun-and-bomb attacks from militant groups. The strikes are believed to be retaliation for the anti-Taliban offensive that has displaced more than two million people in the northwestern Swat valley. On Thursday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called Pakistan’s internal refugee crisis “unprecedented” in recent years.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “This is a plan for I think for 543 million dollars to deal with the current very severe and dramatic humanitarian situation that has arisen there. The scale and the speed of the displacement that we’ve seen over the last few weeks are really unprecedented, certainly in Pakistan but also in recent memory anywhere.”

Iraq to Arrest 1,000 Officials on Corruption Charges

The Iraqi government says it plans to arrest more than 1,000 officials in a massive corruption scandal that has forced its Trade Minister to resign. Trade Ministry workers are accused of profiting from Iraq’s importing of food supplies for programs that feed 60 percent of Iraqis. Video has also surfaced of trade officials at a party drinking alcohol and insulting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Amnesty: Human Rights Abuses Increasing in Mexico

In Mexico, Amnesty International says Mexican soldiers and police officers were involved in an increasing number of human rights abuses last year. Amnesty International’s Arturo Herrera criticized what he called growing impunity in Mexico.

Arturo Herrera: “Due to impunity, practically generalized also where authorities have not been at the height of circumstances, not only with regards to human rights abuses but also a situation of insecurity which prevails in the country which has not found an accurate response.”

Amnesty days the abuses have grown with the expansion of Mexico’s crackdown on drug cartel violence. Earlier this week, ten mayors of Mexican towns were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the cartels.

Pentagon to Launch Cyberspace Command

Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is planning a new military command focusing on cyberspace. The command would direct the military’s computer-based attacks. The news comes as President Obama is expected to announce a civilian office run by a ‘cyber-czar’ tasked with overseeing the protection of the nation’s computer networks later today.

Record 12% in Foreclosure, Behind on Payments

New figures show a record twelve percent of Americans are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Banker Association says the first quarter results mark a four percent rise from the same period last year. Subprime loans accounted for more than 43 percent of delinquent mortgages.

Time Warner-AOL to Split

In business news, the media giant Time Warner has announced it will spin off internet stalwart AOL into a separate company. The two corporations merged nine years ago.

Study: Minimum Wage Hike Provides “Stealth Stimulus”

A new study says recent hikes to the U.S. minimum wage are acting as a “stealth stimulus” to the economy. The Economic Policy Institute says increases to the minimum wage will boost consumer spending by $4.9 billion dollars.

Creditors, Workers Approve GM Deal

Creditors of the auto giant General Motors have approved a deal that would see the U.S. government take at least 70 percent control of the company to save it from collapse. The Canadian government and the United Auto Workers union would also take up smaller ownership shares. On Thursday, a majority of UAW members also approved the ownership deal in return for major concessions on wages and benefits.

Study: Insured Families Pay Additional Costs for Uninsured

A new study says the average family with health insurance paid a hidden premium of more than $1,000 dollars to cover the medical costs of the uninsured. The group Families USA says $42 billion dollars, mostly in emergency room fees, was passed on to insurance companies by uninsured patients. The insurers in turn made up for the costs by imposing higher premiums on their customers.

Single-Payer Advocates Hold National Day of Action

A coalition of advocacy groups meanwhile is holding a national day of action Saturday for the establishment of a single-payer health care system. Events in more than 50 cities are set to include town hall meetings, rallies, vigils and protests outside insurance companies that profit from the medical system. The day of action is being organized by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care.

Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

The consumer advocate Ralph Nader is accusing former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him to stay off the presidential ballot in 2004. Nader says McAuliffe offered his campaign an unspecified amount of money if he withdrew in 19 battleground states. McAuliffe is currently running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

N.Y. Police Kill Off-Duty Black Officer

And here in New York, an off-duty African-American police officer has been killed by a fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal. The slain officer, 25-year old Omar Edwards, had come across a man breaking into his vehicle. He chased the man with his gun drawn when three police officers came upon him and opened fire. Edwards was recently married and the father of two children.

Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

60 Killed in Multiple Iraq Bombings

At least 60 people have been killed in several attacks around Iraq over the last day. Earlier today at least 12 Iraqi civilians were killed when a suicide bomber hit a U.S. convoy in Baghdad. Seven members of a U.S.-backed Sunni militia died when a suicide bomber attacked their base in Kirkuk. The attacks come one day after 41 people were killed and another 70 wounded in a car bomb attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

8 Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Attack

In Afghanistan, at least eight civilians have been killed in a NATO bombing in the southern Helmand province. NATO says its forces were responding to nearby insurgent gunfire. The attack came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed a demand for an end to U.S.-led air strikes following last month’s bombing deaths of an estimated 140 people. The Pentagon meanwhile is now reviving its attempt to downplay the toll, saying between 20 to 30 civilians were killed.

Report: Afghan Insurgents Demand Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal

Meanwhile the New York Times reports leaders of the Taliban and other groups are discussing a potential peace agreement through intermediaries. The militant groups are reportedly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a precondition for laying down their arms.

Senate Removes Gitmo Closure Funding

Senate Democrats have followed through with a pledge to block funding for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Senate voted 90 to six to remove $80 million dollars from a war appropriations bill that would have gone towards closing Guantanamo Bay and investigating torture there. Lawmakers have called on Obama to submit details on his plans for closing Guantanamo. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was one of the six to vote against stripping the funds.

Sen. Dick Durbin: “What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of the United States and has endangered alliances which we have counted on for decades. President Obama is trying to change that. By closing Guantanamo and responsibly allocating those detainees to safe and secure positions he is going to send a message to the world that it is a new day in terms of American foreign policy.”

Obama Considers “Preventative Detention” for Indefinite Jailings

The Obama administration meanwhile is reportedly considering a “preventive detention” system that would indefinitely jail terror suspects in the United States without bringing them to trial. The New York Times reports President Obama discussed the proposal at a meeting with human rights advocates at the White House. Two anonymous advocates told the Times that Obama indicated he favored applying the system to future cases, not prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama is set to deliver a speech later today outlining his plans on how to deal with closing Guantanamo.

Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge

A federal judge has ruled the government can continue to indefinitely jail prisoners without charge. In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge John Bates said anyone determined to have engaged in clashes with the U.S. military or its allies, or to have belonged to the Taliban or Al Qaeda can be held without trial. But Bates also rejected the Obama administration’s assertion it can jail anyone who “supports” those groups. The ruling came in a case challenging the jailing of several Guantanamo prisoners.

Pentagon Report Says 1 in 7 Freed Gitmo Prisoners Engage in Militancy

A newly-disclosed Pentagon report says that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have gone on to engage in militant activity. Opponents of due process rights are expected to use the report to advance their arguments in favor of the continued indefinite jailing of Guantanamo prisoners. But as with prior claims, the Pentagon report offers few details and prevents independent verification. Of the 74 prisoners said to have engaged in militancy after their release, only five can be independently verified to have actually engaged in or threatened to carry out militant acts. The report also fails to say how many of the former prisoners were believed to have gone on to militant activity as a result of their torture at Guantanamo. The most deadly act by a former Guantanamo prisoner was carried out by Kuwaiti national Abdallah al-Ajmi, who drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi army base in March 2008, killing thirteen 13 people. Al-Ajmi’s attorney has said he was radicalized and left mentally unstable following his four years at Guantanamo.

Blackwater Contractors Flee Afghanistan to Avoid Charges

Two US contractors with the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater have reportedly fled Afghanistan to avoid prosecution for a fatal unprovoked shooting earlier this month. The two fleeing contractors and another two colleagues reportedly fired on a vehicle in Kabul after a night of drinking. One Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors say Blackwater supplied them with guns even though the Pentagon hadn’t granted them authorization. Defense attorney Daniel Callahan identified the two fleeing contractors as Steve McClain and Justin Cannon. Callahan says they fled their compound on Saturday and have now made it back to the United States.

Probe: U.S. Gave KBR $83M in Bonuses Despite Electrocutions

A Congressional probe has found the U.S. Army paid more than $83 million dollars in bonuses to the military contractor KBR despite its responsibility for the electrocution deaths of at least four troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan accused the military of ‘stunning incompetence’ for rewarding KBR. In addition to the four electrocution deaths, hundreds of troops have received electrical shocks because of KBR’s electrical work in Iraq. The committee’s probe says more than half of the bonuses were awarded after the Pentagon first heeded warnings about the electrocutions. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly run by Dick Cheney.

Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

A United Nations commission says its facing obstacles from the Israeli government ahead of its probe of alleged war crimes during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza earlier this year. The commission is probing allegations of war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters. But inquiry head Richard Goldstone says his team will likely have to enter Gaza through Egypt because Israel has refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone: “It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission. I made a number of approaches to the Israeli ambassador in Geneva even a direct approach to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but we’ve really received no official response.”

Goldstone says his team plans on holding public hearings for Gaza residents to share their testimony. More than fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during the Israeli attack, most of them civilians. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel will ignore the inquiry’s mission.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: “We have shown the U.N. all the documents, all the data and I think we’ll put this issue behind us. And certainly, there should never be a moral equivalency drawn between terrorists and those who fight terrorism and any attempt to try to single out Israel and to investigate this preposterous suggestion of war crimes is just ridiculous and of course Israel will not cooperate with such an idea.”

U.S. Pledges $110M for Pakistani Refugees

In Pakistan, the UN is warning the exodus of Swat valley residents fleeing government-Taliban clashes could turn into the worst displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide. Around 2 million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out three weeks ago. The Obama administration meanwhile has pledged $110 million dollars in humanitarian aid for the displaced refugees. Critics have called the pledge a PR move as the U.S. has put increasing pressure on the Pakistani government to engage in the fighting that has caused the displacements.

Bolivia, U.S. Hold First Talks Since Ambassador Row

In Bolivia, U.S. and Bolivian officials have held their first talks since last year’s expulsion of a U.S. ambassador on allegations of aiding the opposition to President Evo Morales. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Bolivia’s foreign minister in La Paz.

Bolivia to De-Classify Dictatorship Records

In other news from Bolivia, lawmakers have voted to declassify archives that could hold information on victims of Bolivian dictartorships from 1960 to 1980. A group of relatives of those disappeared under the dictatorships have been on a hunger strike seeking the documents’ release. Olga Flores Bedegal is one of three women on the fifteenth day of the hunger strike.

Olga Flores Bedegal: “Right now we think it’s a clear sign that the government intends to clear up this dark time in Bolivia’s history and answer our questions about where our relatives are. Once we see the results and it’s what we want we will lift the strike. If not, we are willing to die. What we are asking for, no less or no more, is that they follow the law, that they comply with the Inter-American convention against the disappearance of people.”

4 Arrested in Synagogue, Air Base Bombing Plot

Here in New York, four people have been arrested over an alleged plot to bomb two Jewish synagogues and a National Guard air base. The suspects were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside a synagogue. New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said the bombs were actually fake and had been supplied by an FBI informant.

Ray Kelly: “In essence, four individuals were arrested for planting bombs in front of two synegogues in the area. The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians–they were totally inert, no one was ever at risk or danger of being injured this evening. This was a year-long investigation and Director Demeris can give you some information about that.”

Kelly says the suspects have been under investigation for over a year. All four are Muslim. One of the suspects is of Afghan descent and reportedly said he was motivated by anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Missouri Executes Dennis Skillicorn

In Missouri, the death row prisoner Dennis Skillicorn was executed Wednesday after a last failed attempt at clemency. Skillicorn was convicted for the 1994 murder of a commuter who had stopped to help him and two other men. But the court that tried him never got to hear that Skillicorn didn’t actually commit the murder and that the killer claimed Skillicorn didn’t know it was going to take place. I interviewed Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox about Dennis Skillicorn on Tuesday’s broadcast.

Larry Cox: “This illustrates one of the central truths about the death penalty, that the person you kill is often not the same person who committed the crime. He has become a model prisoner. He has reached out to the victims of crime, to restorative justice. He’s worked in a hospice. He has helped young offenders. And that’s the reason why you have this incredible assembly of people from the Corrections Department, you have Republicans, you have Democrats, you have people of faith, all speaking out, saying, “What purpose could possibly be served by killing this man, who has become, by all accounts, a very good man?”

Judges, Attorners Back Troy Davis Appeal

And a group of 27 former judges and prosecutors is asking the Supreme Court to grant an appeal by the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis, an African American, was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony since the trial. Three witnesses say another man later admitted to the killing. There is also no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a filing to the Supreme Court, the group urged the Supreme Court to accept a final appeal from Davis’ attorneys to have the case sent back to a federal judge to hear from the witnesses who recanted their testimony. The signatories include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson; two former state Supreme Court chief justices; and nine former U.S. attorneys, including former Georgia Congressmember Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions.

Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Headlines: Hillary Clinton Admits Drug War a Failure; Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Democracy Now Headlines: Hillary Clinton Admits Drug War a Failure; Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Admin to Unveil New Finance Regulations

The Obama administration is expected to unveil proposals today to boost government authority over the financial system. In addition to previously announced powers to seize troubled non-banking firms, the administration’s plan would reportedly expand federal regulation for the first time to cover financial derivatives trading, large hedge funds and insurers such as AIG. Regulators would also impose uniform standards to limit the range of functions of major financial firms, including banks.

Lawmakers Trim Obama Budget

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers continue negotiations on the final version of President Obama’s budget plan. On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee voted to back the measure after trimming tens of billions dollars from the original proposal. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to vote on its version later today.

Clinton Admits U.S. Drug War Failure

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted U.S. drug policy has not only been a failure but has in fact fueled Mexico’s drug war. Speaking to reporters at the outset of her trip to Mexico, Clinton said: “Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked… I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility. Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians.” Clinton’s comments are being called the most far-reaching by a senior U.S. official in accepting responsibility for the rampant drug trade.

11 Die in U.S. Strikes in Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least eleven people have been killed in two separate U.S. drone attacks. Pakistani officials said the dead were foreign militants. Hundreds of people have died in U.S. missile strikes inside Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. and Pakistani officials are finalizing a new list of targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The cooperation comes despite U.S. accusations that Pakistan’s top intelligence agency is directly supporting Taliban fighters and other militants inside Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, U.S. officials are now accusing elements of Pakistani intelligence of directly funding and supplying Taliban commanders.

U.S., Israel Accused of Deadly Sudan Bombing

The U.S. and Israel are being accused of killing up to 39 people in a bombing attack in Sudan this past January. According to reports, U.S. or Israeli forces allegedly attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. A Sudanese government minister confirmed the strike, saying a “major power” carried it out.

HRW Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Phosphorous Attacks

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of unlawfully attacking densely populated civilian areas with white phosphorous during its three-week attack on Gaza. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the white phosphorous killed at least twelve Palestinian civilians and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Bill Vanesveld of Human Rights Watch says the phosphorous use likely amounts to a war crime.

Bill Vanesveld: “It looks like that evidence is consistent with war-crimes being committed. A war-crime is when there is either intent or recklessness with regard to targeting civilians, or civilian institutions. What we’ve got here is a lot of different civilian institutions being burned down. A lot of different civilians being injured and it continued to happen for no apparent justification-that’s why we’re concerned.”

Vowing to Seek “Peace”, Netanyahu Omits Mention of Palestinian State

In other news from Israel, the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to become what he called a “partner for peace” with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu: “I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security and for rapid economic development of the Palestinian economy. Peace: It’s not the last goal. It’s a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and all Israeli governments–mine included, this means that I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace.”

Despite vowing to work for peace, Netanyahu’s speech failed to even mention the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has consistently rejected Palestinian statehood and backed the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.

Indigenous Groups Hold Global Warming Summit

In Peru, a summit of indigenous groups is gathering to discuss the environmental threats to their communities. Indigenous leader Norma Mayo says energy extraction is endangering areas across the southern hemisphere.

bq. Norma Mayo: “Those guilty of global warming are the developed nations who came to our countries to take oil and minerals and leave our forests contaminated. This has hurt our children, our families. They are poor and malnutrition is rising.”

Moon Calls for $1 Trillion Stimulus for Developing Nations

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is calling on G20 leaders to establish a $1 trillion dollar stimulus package for poorer countries threatened by the global financial meltdown. Ban told the Financial Times he’ll make a formal request at the G20 summit in London next week. Ban meanwhile helped mark an international day of observance for victims of the slave trade at the UN.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “Africa has yet to recover from the ravages of the slave trade, or the subsequent era of colonization. Here in the new world and in Europe and elsewhere, people of African descendants still struggle daily against entrenched prejudice that keeps them disproportionately in poverty. Despite the official abolition of slavery, racism still pollutes our world.”

Paterson, Legislators Agree on Drug Law Repeal

Here in New York, Governor David Paterson and state lawmakers have reached a deal on further undoing the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The agreement would repeal an unknown number of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level drug crimes and grant judges discretion to order treatment rather than prison time. The measure also calls for a $50 million dollar expansion to drug courts and treatment programs. It’s unclear however how many prisoners would be able apply to have their sentences commuted. Paterson was once arrested for protesting the Rockefeller drug laws. But according to reports, he’s seeking to limit the number of prisoners eligible to apply for commutation.

Vermont Governor Vows to Veto Same-Sex Marriage Bill

In Vermont, Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll veto a same-sex marriage bill if one crosses his desk. Vermont’s state senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Monday and a House vote is expected soon. It’s unclear if supporters will have the required majority to override a veto. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced by the courts to do so.

Cardin Introduces Newspaper Rescue Bill

Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland has introduced a measure aimed at rescuing the struggling newspaper industry. The Newspaper Revitalization Act would let newspaper companies become educational non-profits and operate similar to public broadcasters. Audiences would be eligible to give tax-deductible donations, while advertising and subscription revenue would become tax exempt. Cardin said: “The business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy.”

IBM to Shed 5,000 Jobs

The computer giant IBM has announced plans to lay off 5,000 U.S. workers. The number amounts to around four percent of IBM’s workforce.

African-American Scholar John Hope Franklin Dies at 94

And the African-American scholar and author John Hope Franklin has died. Franklin pioneered the field of African-American studies. His book “From Slavery to Freedom” is considered a definitive work on the African-American experience. Franklin recently spoke about the significance of President Obama’s ascent to the White House.

John Hope Franklin: “It’s amazing. It’s remarkable. And it’s a vindication of the willingness as well as the ability of this country to turn a significant corner toward full political equality. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime. My mother and I used to have a game we played out in public. She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up tell them you want to be the first negro president of the United States. Just the words were so far fetched, so incredible, that we used to have fun just saying it. I’m hesitant to talk about the obstacles. They exist. Anyone who’s lived in the United States ten minutes knows they exist. The question is does he have the capacity and the resources to overcome them. And I believe he does.”

Headlines: UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza; Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

Democracy Now Headlines: UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza; Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate Dems Delay Vote to Tax Bank Bonuses

The Washington Post is reporting the Democratic-led Senate is likely to delay until late next month legislation to punitively tax bonuses at banks and investment firms that receive federal aid. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision comes after the White House and Wall Street expressed concern over plans to heavily tax corporate bonuses. Last week, the House voted to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid since January 1 by companies that owe the government at least $5 billion in bailout loans. On Sunday President Barack Obama said the tax code shouldn’t be used to punish people.

AIG Executives to Return $50 Million in Bonuses

The House vote came just days after it was revealed the failed insurance giant AIG was paying out more than $165 million in bonuses. On Monday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced AIG employees have voluntarily agreed to give back more than $50 million in bonuses. Eighteen of the twenty-five AIG Financial Products employees who received the biggest retention payments had agreed to return them. Meanwhile, the Dutch banking and insurance giant ING has asked 1,200 senior employees to give up their 2008 bonuses after the firm received state aid. The company gave out $410 million in bonuses last year.

Report: Geithner Changed Plan After Pressure from Hedge Funds

The Dow Jones Index jumped nearly seven percent Monday after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner introduced a plan for hedge funds and other private investors to receive government financing to purchase as much as $1 trillion of so-called toxic assets. The Washington Post reports the Treasury made the program more attractive to private investors after listening to the concerns of hedge funds and private equity funds. The Treasury increased private investors’ share of potential profits from 20 percent to 50 percent. Critics say the plan is written to favor hedge funds and other private investors, instead of taxpayers. If the assets go up in value, the hedge funds stand to benefit greatly, but if the assets fall, taxpayers bear most of the risk. President Obama said said the plan was a key part to rebuilding the nation’s financial system.

President Obama: “As all of you know, we have been busy on a whole host of fronts over the last several weeks, with the primary purpose of stabilizing the financial system, so banks are lending again, so that the secondary markets are working again, in order to make sure that families can get basic consumer loans, auto loans, student loans, that small businesses are able to finance themselves, and we can start getting this economy moving again.”

President Obama will be holding a prime time news conference tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST.

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Pose Danger

The Obama administration appears to be moving toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that climate-warming gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to human health and welfare. Frank O’Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch said, “I think it’s historic news. It is going to set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution.”

Ehud Barak to Join Netanyahu’s Coalition Government

In news from Israel, Labor chair Ehud Barak has reportedly agreed to join Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government despite opposition from many within the Labor Party. Members of the Labor Party’s executive committee are expected to vote on the deal today. Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In last month’s election, Labor only won thirteen seats.

UN Official Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Gaza

Meanwhile, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, accused Israel Monday of committing war crimes in Gaza. Falk called for an independent inquiry to examine possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas.

Richard Falk: “The overall ratio of deaths–1,434 on the Palestinian side, thirteen on the Israeli side–is suggestive of the one-sidedness of the military encounter and provides a basis for challenging the legality of initiating a military assault with modern weaponry against an essentially defenseless society.”

Richard Falk also accused Israel of preventing Palestinian civilians from fleeing the military assault.

Richard Falk: “This indictment of Israeli tactics is strongly reinforced by a feature of the military operations that is unique in contemporary warfare: namely, coercively confining the Gazan civilian population to the combat zone during the Israeli military operations. This effectively denied to all Palestinians in Gaza the option of becoming refugees. Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity and should be formally recognized as such and explicitly prohibited.”

Israel dismissed Falk’s report, saying it was part of a pattern of demonizing Israel by the United Nations. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, also criticized Israel’s attack on Gaza and suggested Israeli officials could be tried outside of Israel if Israel does not investigate possible war crimes.

Olivier de Schutter: “We would like to emphasize that the primary responsibility of ensuring the respect of international humanitarian law lies with the national justice system. Should the Israeli military or civilian justice system adequately and transparently investigate allegations of violations of the laws of war and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible, the IDF has no reason to fear that its officers will face indictments in foreign jurisdictions.”

On Monday, Israeli Army spokesperson Major Avital Leibovich defended Israel’s actions and disputed a report that Israeli troops targeted Palestinian medical facilities.

Major Avital Leibovich: “The IDF has decided to open a thorough investigation. Investigation was not complete yet, and when it will be complete, we will be more than happy to share the details with the public. We know and we can say today for a fact that the IDF soldiers were instructed to take very good care of the different medical facilities and medical vehicles in the area in Gaza.”

Parents of Tristan Anderson Call for Israel to Take Responsibility for Shooting

In other news from the region, the parents of the American peace activist Tristan Anderson flew to Israel yesterday to see their son, who remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma. Israeli troops shot Anderson in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister. Tristan’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said, “We are scared and really still in shock. To shoot peaceful demonstrators is really horrifying to us. What we want to ask is that the Israeli government publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son.” The words of Nancy Anderson.

PLO Official Assassinated in Lebanon

In Lebanon, a high-ranking member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was assassinated Monday in a roadside bombing in Lebanon that killed a total of five people. Kamal Medhat was the deputy head of the PLO in Lebanon

37 Die in Iraq Bombings

In Iraq, a series of bombings Monday killed at least thirty-seven people and wounded five dozen. The deadliest attack occurred when a suicide bomber attacked mourners at a Kurdish funeral in a town north of Baghdad, killing at least twenty-five.

UN: Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi Violates International Law

The United Nations has ruled the continued detention of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates Burma’s own laws as well as those of the international community. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest.

US Tried to Silence Binyam Mohamed with Plea Bargain

Newly released documents reveal US government lawyers tried to get a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay to sign a deal saying he had never been tortured and that he would not speak to the media as a condition of his release. US lawyers also wanted Binyam Mohamed to plead guilty to secure his freedom, even though he was never charged with a crime. Mohamed was released last month but did not sign such an agreement.

South Africa Bars Dalai Lama from Peace Conference

South Africa has barred the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference. Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused the South African government of caving in to China, one of South Africa’s largest trading partners. Earlier this month, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that foreign countries should stay away from any involvement in the Tibet issue. Desmond Tutu said, “We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed.”

Sen. Sanders Attempts to Block Obama Nominee

In news from Capitol Hill, independent Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to block President Obama’s nominee to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs employee. Sanders said Gensler had worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in US history. He also worked to deregulate electronic energy trading, which led to the downfall of Enron. Sanders said, “We need an independent leader who will help create a new culture in the financial marketplace and move us away from the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior which has caused so much harm to our economy.”

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced to do so by the courts. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports several other New England states are moving forward with similar bills. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is set to vote on the issue later this week. Next month a legislative panel in Maine will hold a hearing on a bill to allow gay couples to marry, just as lawmakers did last month in Rhode Island. Same-sex marriage is already legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Obama Nominates Three to Top Treasury Posts

President Barack Obama has nominated Neal Wolin to be Deputy Treasury Secretary, Lael Brainard to be the Treasury Department’s top official for international affairs, and Stuart Levey, who will stay on as the top counterterrorism official at the department.

Labor Union UNITE-HERE Splits

In labor news, the union UNITE-HERE has split in two. On Monday, 150,000 workers left the union to form a new labor group called Workers United, which will be affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. UNITE-HERE was formed in 2004 when UNITE, representing apparel and laundry workers, merged with the larger Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE.

Newhouse to Close Ann Arbor News

In media news, the Newhouse family has announced plans to lay off the entire staff at the Ann Arbor News in July and then replace the daily paper with two new companies: a website called AnnArbor.com and a newspaper that will come out only two days a week. The Ann Arbor News has been a daily newspaper for the past 174 years. In addition, three daily Michigan newspapers –the Flint Journal, the Saginaw News and the Bay City Times–will soon be published only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Canadian Seal Hunt Faces Criticism

In Canada, the annual seal hunt has begun despite increasing criticism from animal rights organizations. The Canadian government has announced that hunters will be allowed to kill 280,000 young harp seals this year, a slight increase over last year. Although most animals are shot, some are killed by blows from large spiked clubs. International pressure is growing to stop the seal hunt. Last week, Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a “bloody industry.” Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources called sealing “one of the most inhumane types of hunting in the world.”

Study: Lots of Red Meat Increases Mortality Risk

And a major new study from the National Cancer Institute has found people who eat the most red meat and the most processed meat have the highest overall risk of death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the eating habits of more than 500,000 people between the ages of fifty and seventy-one. The researchers said thousands of deaths could be prevented if people simply ate less meat.

Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

AIG to Pay Out $450 Million in Bonuses

The failed insurance giant AIG is preparing to pay out $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other employees despite receiving a $173 billion government bailout. The bonuses include over $165 million to executives in the Financial Products unit, which lost $40 billion last year and played a major role in the meltdown of the global financial system. AIG is paying out the bonuses even though it is now 80 percent owned by the US government. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, the director of the White House National Economic Council, described the bonuses as outrageous, but he said the bonuses are part of a contract.

Lawrence Summers: “We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.”

AIG’s new chief executive Edward Liddy justified the bonuses, saying AIG would have trouble attracting and retaining talent “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the US Treasury.”

AIG Lists Banks It Gave Bailout Money To

Meanwhile, AIG has disclosed for the first time the names of the financial institutions that benefited from the government’s $173 billion bailout. Goldman Sachs was the largest recipient at nearly $13 billion. Over $35 billion was also paid out to foreign banks including Societe Generale of France, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Barclays of Britain and UBS of Switzerland.

FMLN’s Mauricio Funes Wins El Salvador Election

In El Salvador, leftist presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has claimed victory, ending twenty years of conservative rule. Funes’s party, the FMLN, is a former guerrilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government for close to twenty years. Funes defeated Rodrigo Avila of the ARENA party by three percentage points. During a victory speech, Funes promised “safe change” in the mold of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mauricio Funes: “That is why I invite, from this moment, different social and political forces to help us build this unity, which should be based on tolerance, on respecting differences and the identification of common objectives.”

Pakistan Reinstates Sacked Chief Justice

In an attempt to defuse a growing political crisis, the Pakistani government has announced the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice. The move comes as Pakistan was facing mass streets protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. On Friday, Zardari ordered Pakistan’s main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to be placed under house arrest. Sharif defied the order and held a large protest in Lahore on Sunday. Sharif was threatening to march to Islamabad, but the protest was called off after the government announced the reinstatement of Chaudhry. Chaudhry and sixty other judges were dismissed in 2007 by former president General Pervez Musharraf.

Israeli Troops Shoot US Activist in West Bank

An American activist from Oakland, California was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Thirty-seven-year-old Tristan Anderson is the fourth member of the International Solidarity Movement to be critically injured or killed by the Israeli military since 2003.

Jonathan Pollack of the ISM: “He was shot at directly with a tear gas projectile, with an extended range tear gas projectile from about fifty to sixty meters. And the impact caused several condensed fractures to his skull and collapsation of his eye socket. He was operated on in the hospital a few hours later in critical condition, and large portions of his frontal lobe had to be removed, because it was splattered with bone fragments as a result of the impact of the tear gas canister.”

During their weekly demonstrations since last April, four unarmed N’alin residents have been killed and over 400 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Red Cross Report: US Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding. The author Mark Danner published parts of the secret Red Cross report in the New York Review of Books. Danner said the Red Cross’s use of the word “torture” has important legal implications. Danner said, “It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading.’ The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”

Cheney: Obama Policies Are Making US Less Safe

Hours after excerpts of the Red Cross report were published, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CNN. He was asked whether he believed President Obama was making Americans less safe by abandoning some of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism techniques.

Dick Cheney: “I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles. President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he’s making some choices that, in my mind, will in fact raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Obama: US Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charge

Dick Cheney’s comments came days after the Obama administration said it will no longer consider prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to be enemy combatants. Despite abandoning the label, the administration claims it still has the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge even if the individual is captured far from any battlefield and has not directly participated in hostilities.

Madoff Lawyers File an Appeal for his Release

Attorneys for Bernard Madoff have filed an appeal to challenge a judge’s decision to keep the former chairman of NASDAQ in jail until his sentencing in June. On Thursday, Madoff pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding investors of $64 billion. He faces up to 150 years in prison. Meanwhile, newly released court documents show Madoff and his wife had a net worth of over $800 million at the end of last year. Their assets included homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and the French Riviera, a $7 million yacht, a $2 million fishing boat and $2.6 million in jewelry. Madoff’s wife is trying to keep nearly $70 million worth of assets, including a penthouse Manhattan apartment, claiming her money has nothing to do with her husband’s scheme.

China Expresses Concern over Safety of US Investments

In other economic news, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has publicly expressed concern about the security of China’s trillion-dollar investment in US government debt. Wen said, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.” China is America’s biggest foreign creditor.

European Lawmakers Meet with Hamas Leader in Syria

On Saturday, a European delegation met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in the first announced visit of a European delegation to meet with Hamas leaders. Members of the delegation included British Parliamentarian Clare Short.

Clare Short: “We’re very clear that to make progress we need to talk to Hamas, because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinian people. So we’re trying, by our visit, to bring more and more parliamentarians to open up discussion with Hamas in order to move things forward in the hope that we can, in the end, get a just peace.”

Two Israeli Police Officers Shot Dead in West Bank

Two Israeli police officers were shot dead on Sunday near the settlement of Masu’a in the northern West Bank. An organization calling itself the “Imad Mughniyeh Group” claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban Bomb Kills Four US Soldiers

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for setting a roadside bomb that killed four US soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the mayor of Kandahar survived an assassination attempt Sunday when a remote-controlled bomb was place on a wheelbarrow near his office. The bombing killed one person and injured six others.

US Missile Strike Kills Four in Pakistan

The US has carried out another missile strike inside Pakistan. A US Predator drone fired two hellfire missiles at a home near the Afghan border. The strike reportedly killed four militants.

Hilda Solis Sworn in as Labor Secretary

Former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis has been sworn in as Labor Secretary. In her first day in office, Solis announced the suspension of Bush administration rules that made it easier for companies to hire immigrants as so-called guest workers. Solis said today’s economic climate makes educating workers more important.

Hilda Solis: “In times of economic crisis, giving Americans the tools they need to find and keep good jobs must be our priority. Now, more than ever, we must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. Retooling our workforce not only helps workers but supports high growth industries by ensuring they have the adequate skills that workers need.”

New Mexico Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

New Mexico has moved a step closer to abolishing the death penalty. On Friday, the state senate voted 24-to-18 to end capital punishment, but it is unclear if Democratic Governor Bill Richardson will sign the repeal bill.

Vermont Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

In Vermont, hearings begin today on whether the state should legalize same-sex marriage.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested in Tennessee

In Tennessee, fourteen anti-coal activists were arrested Saturday as they participated in a die-in in front of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters in Knoxville. Organizers said the action was held to show solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and the survivors of the recent coal ash disaster outside of Knoxville.

Arizona’s Oldest Newspaper, Tucson Citizen, to Close

And in Arizona, the state’s oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, has announced its final issue will be on Saturday. The paper is owned by the Gannet chain. Meanwhile, members of the San Francisco Chronicle’s largest union have agreed to contract concessions that parent company Hearst Corporation says are essential to keeping the newspaper open.

Video: “Collateral Damage? Civilians in Gaza Pay the Price”

On February 27, Je Stork of Human Rights Watch spoke at Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing on the situation in Gaza. Stork–who’s work for Human Rights Watch focuses on violations of international law in the Israeli-Palestinian issue–spoke on how civilian casualties Gaza. Stork looks at both the actions of the Israelis and Palestinian groups and argues that civilians are frequently caught in the middle.

Here’s the video:

An interview with the speaker–conducted by Lansing’s Peace Education Center–explores the Israel/Palestine conflict in more detail.

For additional information, Human Rights Watch has a page that collects all of their coverage of the Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Headlines: Israel Vows to Defend Soldiers Against War Crimes Claims; Obama Lifts “Global Gag Rule”

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Israel Vows to Defend Soldiers Against War Crimes

The Israeli government is vowing to give legal protection to soldiers accused of committing war crimes during the twenty-two-day attack on Gaza which left over 1,300 Palestinians dead and more than 5,000 wounded. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet the Israeli military would be safe from any war crime charges brought against them by the international community.

Ehud Olmert: “The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals, and the state of Israel will assist them on this front and will protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza.”

Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes, including the use of white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas. For weeks, Israel has denied using white phosphorus, but over the weekend a Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed its use but claimed it was not used in an illegal manner. Eight Israeli human rights groups have called on the Israeli government to investigate the scale of the casualties, describing the number of dead Palestinian women and children as “terrifying.” UN humanitarian chief John Holmes called the casualty toll “shocking.”

John Holmes: “What I saw on the ground was even more shocking than I had expected in the extent and the nature of the destruction that there was there. Of course, it’s not universal, and it’s not the same in some areas as in others. There are some areas, for example, of Gaza City which are relatively–I say relatively–spared, with only the odd building destroyed or hit. But there are other areas I visited where most or all buildings had been destroyed and leveled.”

Obama Lifts Abortion “Global Gag Rule”

President Barack Obama has lifted the global gag rule that banned US funding for any international healthcare organizations that perform abortions or advocates for the legalization of abortion, even if those activities are funded by non-US money. The global gag rule was seen by many as a major global barrier to access to crucial women’s health services. Gill Greer of the International Planned Parenthood Federation praised Obama’s decision. She said, “For eight long years, the global gag rule has been used by the Bush administration to play politics with the lives of poor women across the world.”

Obama to Allow California to Set Auto Emissions Standards

In another break from the Bush administration, President Obama is expected to direct federal regulators today to allow California and thirteen other states to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards. Obama will also order the Department of Transportation to draft new automobile fuel economy regulations and for federal agencies to make all government buildings more energy efficient.

Afghans Protest After Report of US Killing of 16 Civilians

Thousands of Afghans protested against the United States on Sunday over reports that a US air raid killed sixteen Afghan civilians on the previous day. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the US operation, saying the killing of innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists.” The US military claims the air strike killed fifteen militants. This comes as USA Today reports the number of roadside bomb attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan increased by 45 percent last year. The number of troops in the US-led coalition killed by bombs more than doubled.

US Drones Kill 20 in Strikes on Pakistan

The US military has carried out its first strikes in Pakistan since President Barack Obama took office. At least twenty were killed on Friday after US Predator drones carried out two separate missile strikes. The Guardian newspaper says Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for the attacks inside Pakistan.

Iraqi Couple Killed in US House Raid

In Iraq, US soldiers killed an Iraqi couple and wounded their eight-year-old daughter during a house raid in the northern city of Kirkuk. The raid targeted the home of a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has announced plans to reopen the infamous Abu Ghraib prison under a new name: Baghdad’s Central Prison.

Bolivians Approve New Constitution

Bolivian President Evo Morales has claimed victory after voters approved a new constitution that would advance indigenous rights and reaffirm state control over Bolivia’s natural gas reserves.

Evo Morales: “The colonial state ends here. Internal colonialism and external colonialism end here. Sisters and brothers, neoliberalism ends here, too.”

About 60 percent of voters approved the referendum. The new constitution will give the indigenous majority more seats in Congress and greater clout in the justice system. It also officially recognizes their pre-Columbian spiritual traditions and promotes indigenous languages.

Report: Banks Reduce Lending After Receiving $148 Billion from US Gov’t

In economic news, the Wall Street Journal reports lending at many of the nation’s largest banks fell in recent months, even after the government gave them $148 billion that was intended to help make loans more readily available. Both Bank of America and Citigroup reduced their lending despite receiving $45 billion from the government. Duke University Professor Campbell Harvey said the government’s efforts to jumpstart lending has failed. Harvey said, “Basically we have dropped a huge amount of money…and we have nothing to show for what we actually wanted to happen.” Most banks have refused to say how they have spent the billions of dollars in handouts. When Congress approved the massive bailout, it attached nearly no strings to the money, and the Treasury Department never asked the banks how it would be spent.

600,000 File for Unemployment in a Week; Highest in 26 Years

In other economic news, the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits has risen to a twenty-six-year high. Nearly 600,000 people filed for jobless benefits during the second week of January. The last time jobless claims were this high was in November 1982. The number of people collecting unemployment insurance has jumped by nearly two million over the past year. In California, the nation’s largest state, the unemployment rate has risen to 9.3 percent. Michigan has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 10.6 percent–the highest it has been since 1984.

Congress Considers New Oversight of Financial Sector

The Washington Post reports Congress is moving to create strong new oversight of the financial sector that would likely give the Federal Reserve authority to examine the workings of a wide range of companies. Under legislation proposed by Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, the Fed would likely be given the power to gather information about the inner workings of banks, investment firms, insurance companies, hedge funds and any other entity big enough or so intertwined with other companies that it creates the risk of a systemic collapse.

Congolese Rebel Leader Pleads Not Guilty to War Crimes

Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga has pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges in the first case to be tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to fight in the Congo. The trial is the first since the court came into operation in July 2002.

Pope Revokes Excommunication of Holocaust-Denying Bishop

In religious news. Pope Benedict has revoked the excommunication of four conservative bishops who were removed from the church two decades ago for opposing the modernization of the church. All four bishops are members of the Society of Saint Pius X, a deeply conservative and traditional group that was founded to protest the changes spurred by Vatican II. Jewish groups condemned the Pope’s decision because one of the Bishops, Richard Williamson, is a well known Holocaust denier.

Robert Rozett of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum: “We believe the question of excommunicating or not excommunicating a member of the Church is an internal matter for the Church. Nevertheless, we find it scandalous that a member of the Church at this high level, a bishop, has views of denying the Holocaust. Such views are an insult to the memory of the Holocaust, to the victims and to the survivors, to those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and, more than anything else, to truth, to historical truth. We continue to hope that the Vatican will take concerted efforts to condemn these views and the people that hold such views.”

Constitutional Amendment Considered to Hold Special Elections for Vacant Senate Seats

Senator Russell Feingold has announced plans to introduce an amendment to the US Constitution to require special elections in the event of a Senate seat vacancy, taking the power away from governors. Feingold said, “The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.” Feingold cited the spectacle of seeing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appoint a successor to fill President Barack Obama’s seat weeks after he was arrested for trying to sell the seat. Blagojevich’s impeachment hearing begins today, but the governor won’t be attending. Instead, he will be on a national media blitz, appearing on Good Morning America, The View and Larry King. New York Governor David Paterson has also come under criticism for selecting conservative Democrat Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat.

BBC & Sky News Refuse to Broadcast Appeal for Victims of Gaza War

And in Britain, Sky News has joined the BBC in refusing to broadcast an emergency humanitarian appeal for victims of the war in Gaza. The appeal was organized by Oxfam, Save the Children, the Red Cross and other charities. The networks claim the two-minute appeal would compromise their impartiality. More than fifty British MPs have called on the BBC to reverse its decision. Critics of the BBC have included former parliamentarian Tony Benn.

Tony Benn: “If the BBC doesn’t broadcast it, people will die in Gaza, because they haven’t got the aid that would have come from an appeal…And the BBC will change. I have no doubt that will happen. And that’s what public pressure can do. Never, ever underestimate the power of determined people, if their cause is right.”