Dozens of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombings
Dozens of civilians were killed Tuesday in a U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. Witnesses say U.S. warplanes bombed scores of homes during clashes with Taliban fighters in the Western province of Farah. Villagers reportedly brought truckloads of bodies to their provincial governor’s office. The Red Cross says dozens of civilians were killed, including many women and children. Estimates of the dead range from thirty to as many as one-hundred-and fifty. The attack comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for his first White House meeting sine President Obama took office. On Tuesday, Karzai said U.S.-Afghan relations are strong despite tensions over the bombing of Afghan civilians.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “We’ve had ups and downs, especially in the past year and a half in our relations with America. There were difficult moments over civilian casualties, there were tense moments over aid distribution and corruption and all that. But ladies and gentlemen, through this forum, I would like to inform the American people that the fundamentals of this relationship are very, very strong.”
Karzai says he’ll discuss the latest mass-killing of Afghan civilians when he meets Obama later today. The Obama administration has increasingly criticized Karzai since he began vocally condemning U.S. airstrikes and calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.
Justice Dept. Torture Memo Probe Rules Out Prosecution
Prospects are dimming for the prosecution of Bush administration lawyers who authorized the torture of foreign prisoners. In a draft report, Justice Department investigators say the lawyers–John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury–shouldn’t face criminal charges for authoring memos that backed a range of abuses including waterboarding and physical assault. The report however does say they showed serious lapses in judgment, and recommends referring Yoo and Bybee to their state bar associations for possible disciplinary action, including disbarment. Bybee is an appeals court judge while Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
Report: Torture Backers Lobby to Sway Investigation
The leaked details of the Justice Department probe come amidst reports Yoo and Bybee have launched an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort to water it down. According to the Washington Post, Yoo and Bybee have encouraged former Bush administration colleagues to warn current Justice Department officials against recommending criminal prosecution.
U.S.: Bank of America Needs $34B
In financial news, a government assessment of the nation’s top banks has found Bank of America needs an additional $34 billion in capital. The amount is triple previous estimates of what the government’s ‘stress test’ was expected to recommend. The finding could result in U.S. taxpayers becoming Bank of America’s largest shareholder. Bank of America could raise the needed capital by taking the government’s existing $45 billion in non-voting preferred shares under the Wall Street bailout and converting it into common stock. Government officials are also expected to instruct the bailed out financial giant Citigroup to raise an additional $5 to $10 billion in capital. The full stress test results will be announced on Thursday.
AIG Bonuses Higher Than Previously Disclosed
The bailed-out insurance giant AIG has revealed its controversial bonus payouts were higher than previously disclosed. New figures show AIG paid out more than $454 million in bonuses last year–nearly four times the amount it reported in March.
Doctors, Activists Confront Senate Panel for Ignoring Single-Payer Health Care
On Capital Hill, a group of doctors and activists directly challenged Democratic Senators Tuesday for their refusal to discuss single-payer health care. The action came at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care reform. None of the fifteen witnesses called to testify support single-payer, and the committee chair’s, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, has dismissed single-payer as “off the table.” One by one, eight single-payer advocates stood up to challenge Baucus and call for single-payer.
All eight single-payer advocates were arrested. The action was organized by the groups Single Payer Action and Health Care Now!
Biden Criticizes Israeli Settlements, Checkpoints at AIPAC Meeting
The Obama administration has offered some rare public criticism of Israeli government policies. Speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said Israel should freeze settlement activity.
Vice President Joe Biden: “Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You’re not going to like my saying this but: not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, access to economic opportunity and increased security responsibility. This is a show-me deal. Not based on faith. Show me!”
Although the Obama administration has called for freezing the expansion of exisiting Israeli settlements, it’s yet to call for their dismantlement and Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders.
Hamas Leader Renews Acceptance of Palestinian State in ’67 Borders, Says Rocket Attacks Ceased
As Biden chided Israel, Hamas’ political leader renewed his acceptance of a Palestinian state within the Occupied Territories. In an interview with the New York Times, Khaled Meshal said: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Meshal also said Hamas fighters in Gaza have completely ceased firing rockets at nearby Israeli towns.
UN Asks Israel for Reparations in Gaza Attacks
A United Nations investigation has found the Israeli military was “negligent or reckless” toward UN facilities, personnel and other civilians during its three-week attack on the Gaza Strip ending in January. Israel attacked at least eight UN sites during its assault on Gaza, including a school where up to forty civilians were killed and a warehouse storing desperately-needed supplies. The report found Israel intentionally fired on a UN-run elementary school, killing three youths seeking refuge inside. The UN says it’s asked the Israeli government to formally acknowledge its claims of Palestinian militants firing from the sites were untrue. The report also calls on Israel to compensate the families of the UN workers killed or injured in the attacks. But in what critics are calling a major capitulation, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has explicitly rejected the report’s call for a further investigation into whether Israel violated international law. In a cover letter attached to the report, Ban praises Israel for its alleged cooperation in the probe and says: “I do not plan any further enquiries.” Ban was questioned about his stance at a news conference on Tuesday.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon: “I have no authority to edit or change or alter any recommendation and conclusions of this board of inquiry’s judgement. However, because it contains some very sensitive information, then I decided to summarize, respecting the integrity of these reported conclusions.”
40,000 Flee Swat as Pakistani Leaders Arrive in U.S.
In Pakistan, more than 40,000 people have reportedly fled the Swat Valley following clashes between Pakistani and Taliban forces. Both sides are blaming the other for the breakdown of a truce in the region. Despite the fighting, Pakistani officials say they’ve rescinded an evacuation order because they don’t plan to launch a new military offensive. Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in two districts bordering Swat. The unrest comes as Pakistani leaders are in Washington for meetings at the White House. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to meet President Obama later today. Testifying before Congress, Obama’s special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said the U.S. is fully backing Zardari.
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “Pakistan as such is of immense importance to the United States strategically–that our goal must be unambiguously to support and help stabilize a democratic Pakistan, headed by its elected President Asif Ali Zardari. We do not think Pakistan is a failed state. We think it is a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies and we have, Mr. Chairman, the same common enemy.”
Iran Reviews Saberi Conviction After Family Drops Attorneys
In Iran, government officials have apparently forced the jailed Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi to drop a group of prominent lawyers including the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Saberi was sentenced last month to eight years in prison after being convicted of spying for the United States. Her father says she’s ended a two-week hunger strike protesting her imprisonment. On Tuesday, the Iranian judiciary said it would review Saberi’s conviction shortly after her family announced it won’t retain Ebadi and the other attorneys.
Mexican Journalist Killed After Warning of Threats
In Mexico, a journalist who warned of threats on his life by government officials has been shot to death. Fifty-two-year old Carlos Ortega Samper was killed one day after his warnings were published. He was shot three times by unidentified assailants in the
northern state of Durango.
Obama Proposes $63B for Global Health
President Obama has unveiled a $63 billion dollar proposal for new global health spending over the next six years. Obama says he’ll expand on U.S. funding for AIDS programs to also focus on tropical diseases and other treatable and preventable illnesses.
Several AIDS advocacy groups are criticizing the proposal, saying Obama has backtracked on a pledge to increase AIDS funding by $1 billion a year.
Supreme Court Ruling Prompts Calls for Dropping Postville Charges
The national bar association for immigration lawyers is calling on the Justice Department to drop charges against undocumented workers swept up in a raid on an Iowa meatpacking plant last year. Nearly 400 workers were detained at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, making it one of the largest raids in U.S. history. On Tuesday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said the charges should be dropped following this week’s Supreme Court ruling on identify theft. On Monday, the court ruled prosecutors must prove an undocumented worker knew false identity papers belonged to another real person.
Maine, D.C. Near Gay Marriage Approval
Maine has moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the Maine House voted 89 to 57 to allow gay marriage in the state, following a similar vote by the state Senate last week. Both chambers will each hold one more vote on the bill before sending it to Democratic Governor John Baldacci. Baldacci has previously opposed gay marriage but isn’t expected to issue a veto. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the city council has again voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states following a similar vote last month. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is expected to sign the measure, setting up a likely showdown with Congress, which approves D.C.’s laws under Home Rule.
Pentagon Withdraws Exoneration of Iraq War Propaganda Program
The Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office has withdrawn a report that exonerated military leaders for a propaganda program ahead of the Iraq war. Beginning in 2002, the Pentagon recruited more than seventy-five retired military officers to appear on TV outlets as so-called military analysts to portray Iraq as an urgent threat. In January, the Pentagon’s inspector general dismissed allegations the program violated laws barring propaganda and rejected reports showing the analysts used their Pentagon access to win government contracts for defense companies. On Tuesday, the Pentagon admitted the report was flawed and even removed it from its website.
Globe, Union Reach Deal
And the Boston Globe has reached an tentative agreement with its largest union amidst threats of the newspaper’s closure. The New York Times Company had threatened to close the Globe within sixty days if workers did not agree to a series of major financial and contract concessions. The Newspaper Guild says the deal will ensure the Globe’s continued publication. Meanwhile on Capital Hill, Senator John Kerry is set to hold a hearing today on the future of newspapers.