U.S. Admits Responsibility for Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

For years (ex: this post from 2005), we have been talking about how the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been taking a toll on civilians in the country–a prediction that was first made by the anti-war movement back in 2001.

In recent years, air strikes have continued to devastate the country and target its civilian population. Civilian casualties increased last year and this year there are continued reports of casualties along with an expansion of the use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The killings have become frequent enough that even the Afghani government–which has been fairly uncritical of the U.S.–has been forced to make the attacks an issue.

Last month, there was a U.S. air strike that killed “dozens” (Red Cross estimates put the casualties at 120). At the time, the U.S. blamed the Taliban for the civilian casualties, but it is now admitting that it was responsible:

A military investigation has concluded that American personnel made significant errors in carrying out some of the airstrikes in western Afghanistan on May 4 that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, according to a senior American military official.

The official said the civilian death toll would probably have been reduced if American air crews and forces on the ground had followed strict rules devised to prevent civilian casualties. Had the rules been followed, at least some of the strikes by American warplanes against half a dozen targets over seven hours would have been aborted.

In many cases, it has been suggested that these continued attacks are motivating Afghanis to oppose the U.S. presence–and in some cases–to join insurgent groups. Can you really blame them?

Advertisements

Headlines: Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'; Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

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.

CIA: Keep Documents from Bush Era Sealed

The Obama administration is urging a federal judge to block the release of certain Bush-era documents that detail the videotaped interrogations of CIA prisoners at secret prisons. The Washington Post reports CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an affidavit that releasing the documents would benefit al-Qaeda’s recruitment efforts. Panetta said the forced disclosure of such material to the American Civil Liberties Union could be “expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed.” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said he found it “troubling” for the Obama administration to say that information about purported abuses should be withheld because it might fuel anti-American propaganda. Jaffer said that amounts to an assertion that “the greater the abuse, the more important it is that it should remain secret.”

Shell Pays $15.5 Million in Niger Delta Case

The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay a $15.5 million settlement to avoid a trial over its alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta. The case was brought on behalf of ten plaintiffs who accused Shell of complicity in the 1995 executions of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. We’ll have more on the story after headlines.

Peruvian Indigenous Leader Seeks Asylum

In Peru, indigenous leader Alberto Pizango has sought refuge in Nicaragua’s Embassy and is seeking asylum. Pizango is wanted in Peru on sedition charges after leading protests opposing laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the Amazon rainforest. Over the weekend, sixty people died after police tried to break up a blockade. Indigenous activists are vowing to continue to fight for their land.

Indigenous Protester Atilio Pisango: “We have carried on this fight for more than fifty-seven days. The government has killed our indigenous brothers in Bagua. If the government repeals the law, we will lift the strike. Our leader, Alberto Pizango, did not send armed men; it was the army.”

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The Supreme Court has decided not to hear a challenge to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The court refused to hear an appeal from a former Army captain who was dismissed under the policy. The Obama administration had urged the court to throw the case out. In a brief, the Obama administration had said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.” While running for president, Senator Obama campaigned to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January.

Supreme Court Justices Delay Sale of Chrysler

In other Supreme Court news, the court has issued a stay of the sale of Chrysler to the Italian automaker Fiat, delaying Chrysler’s exit from bankruptcy. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced the court would consider whether to hear the objections to the deal by three Indiana state pension funds and consumer groups. Some analysts say Chrysler could be at risk of going out of business if the court decides to hear an appeal in the case.

Court: Judges Must Avoid Appearance of Bias

In another closely watched case, the Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself from an appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy because the coal mining company’s CEO had been a major campaign donor. By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge should have removed himself from deciding the case, because Massey chief executive Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help him get elected to the court.

Court Declines to Hear Case to Save Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from a coalition of Native American and environmental groups to protect the San Francisco Peaks located near Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountains are considered sacred by thirteen Native American tribes. A lawsuit was filed by the coalition to block a private developer from expanding a ski resort on the mountain and from using recycled sewer water to make fake snow.

Clinton Criticizes N. Korea for Secretly Trying US Journalists

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the Obama administration is concerned about the two American journalists being held in North Korea and that they should be freed. The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. They have been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp.

Hillary Clinton: “Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the length of the sentences and the fact that this trial was conducted totally in secret with no observers. And we’re engaged in all possible ways, through every possible channel, to secure their release, and we once again urge North Korea to grant their immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”

US Continues to Hold Iraq Journalist Without Charge

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized North Korea for trying the journalists by secret trial, the Obama administration continues to hold at least one foreign journalist without charge. Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, has been held in Iraq since September despite objections from the Iraqi government, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Reuters.

Former Guantanamo Prisoner Describes Being Abused

Another former prisoner at Guantanamo has come forward to describe being abused inside the jail. Lakhdar Boumediene, who now lives in France, told ABC News he was kept awake for sixteen days straight, and guards inappropriately used hypodermic needles and IV tubes intended for forced feeding during hunger strikes. Boumediene, who was held for nearly eight years without charge, was interviewed on ABC News last night.

ABC News: “Do you think that you were tortured?”

Lakhdar Boumediene: “I don’t think. I am sure. You think that’s not torture? What’s this? What you can call this?”

NY Times Criticized over Report “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad”

The New York Times is coming under intense scrutiny over its recent coverage of what former Guantanamo prisoners have done after their release. On May 21, the Times ran a front-page story titled “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds.” Since publication, the Times has had to backtrack from the article’s most serious claims. On Sunday, the paper’s public editor wrote that the article was “seriously flawed and greatly overplayed.” The public editor said the article failed to distinguish between former prisoners suspected of new acts of terrorism–more than half the cases–and those supposedly confirmed to have rejoined jihad against the West. Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in twenty.

First Guantanamo Inmate Transferred to US for Trial

US authorities have brought the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to the United States, flying him into New York to face trial for his alleged role in bombing the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Ahmed Ghailani arrived early today and was brought to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He is scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court later today.

FBI Defends Use of Informants Inside Mosques

FBI Director Robert Mueller has defended the agency’s use of informants inside mosques, despite complaints from Muslim organizations that worshippers and clerics are being targeted instead of possible terrorists. Mueller said, “We don’t investigate places, we investigate individuals.” Several Muslim organizations have publicly complained that the FBI has planted spies in their mosques. Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California accused the FBI of “trying to incite and entrap” law-abiding people.

Cuba Rejects Offer to Rejoin Organization of American States

Cuba has formally rejected an offer to return to the Organization of American States after members of the group agreed to lift the Cold War-era ban on its membership six days ago. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has said repeatedly that Cuba had no desire to rejoin the OAS, which he has described as an instrument of neoliberal economic policies and US intervention in Latin America. The official announcement was made on Cuban television.

Cuban Television Announcer Raul Isidron: “Cuba] has values at odds with the neoliberal capitalism and egoism promoted by the OAS and feels that it has the right and the authority to say no to the idea of incorporating itself in an organization over which the United States still holds an oppressive control.”

Top UN Official Calls for Global Ban on Plastic Bags

In environmental news, a top UN official is urging a global ban on plastic bags, in part because plastic is the most pervasive form of ocean litter. Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said, “Single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” The campaign to ban plastic bags is gaining steam internationally. China banned plastic bags last year, saving the country an estimated 40 billion plastic bags. Here in this country, San Francisco is the only large city to have banned plastic bags.

Charges Dropped in Dragging Death of Black Man in Texas

In the Texas town of Paris, protesters gathered outside the local courthouse Monday condemning the recent dismissal of murder charges against two white men in the dragging death of a black man. Twenty-four-year-old Brandon McClelland died last year after he was dragged from beneath a truck until his body was nearly dismembered. The two men originally charged in the crime were both friends of McClelland. They were released last week after being held for eight months in jail awaiting trial. Officials said the case had been unraveling in recent months because of a lack of eyewitnesses and physical evidence. Last month, a gravel truck driver gave a sworn statement acknowledging he might have accidentally run over McClelland, who authorities say got out of the car to walk home.

5,000 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Last week, the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000. Despite this grim milestone, few media outlets took note–including progressive/left media outlets. At this point, there really isn’t much to say about the two occupations that hasn’t been said on this website and others countless times before. There needs to a policy shift towards an immediate withdrawal–Obama’s timeline simply won’t cut it.

Below is a graphic produced by the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Countdown to Withdrawal website that really says all that needs to be said about the wars:

060809-stop_the_wars.png

Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation's Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

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.

Two U.S. Journalists Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korea

A North Korean court has sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”

Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

U.S.-Backed Coalition Wins in Lebanon

A U.S.-backed coalition led by Saad al-Hariri appears to have won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections defeating Hezbollah. The outcome is seen as a blow to Syria and Iran and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the so-called “March 14” coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

Center-Right Parties Retain Control Of European Parliament

In another closely watched election, center-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout.

Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

The nation’s unemployment rate has surged to 9.4 percent – the highest it has been since 1983. 345,000 jobs were lost during the month of May. The current unemployment rate would jump to 16.8 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. The latest government statistics also reveal the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is at the highest its been since the government began keeping records in 1948. 4.5 percent of the work force has been out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “I would say to you the number, in terms of the unemployment rate, is still very, very high, not acceptable. We know that we have to do much, much more to put American workers back to work. We have seen some leveling off in comparison to the last few months. We do see jobs that are not being lost as quickly, but I think that’s going to happen between now and the next few months.”

Anti-Abortion Activist Warns of More Violent Acts

The anti-abortion activist accused of killing Dr. George Tilller has warned that more violent acts are planned against abortion providers. In a phone interview from jail, Scott Roeder told the Associated Press “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Roeder called the AP on Sunday, one day after one thousand people gathered in Wichita, Kansas for the funeral of Doctor Tiller. On Friday the Justice Department announced it had launched a federal investigation into Tiller’s death.

Dozens Killed in Clashes Between Peruvian Police and Indigenous Groups

In Peru dozens of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. For weeks indigenous activists in Peru have been protesting a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. We’ll have more on Peru after headlines.

More Than 100 Killed in Somalia; Radio Journalist Assassinated

In Somalia, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between rival armed groups in some of the heaviest fighting this year. Meanwhile the director of a prominent Somalia radio station was assassinated on Sunday. Mukhtar Mohammad Hirabe died after being shot in the head five times. Hirabe is the fifth journalist killed in Somalia this year.

Panel Finds Lax Oversight of Wartime Contracting

An independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending, has found the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found U.S. reliance on private sector employees has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do or how much they’re paid.

Iraqi Government Arrests Five U.S. Contractors

This comes as the Iraqi government has arrested five U.S. contractors in connection with the killing of another U.S. contractor. If the case proceeds to an Iraqi court, the five men will be the first Americans to be tried under Iraqi law. The men are accused of murdering 60-year-old James Owen Kitterman, president of Peregrine, a contracting company based in Kuwait. Four of the five detained contractors work for North Carolina-based Corporate Training Unlimited–a security firm headed by Donald Feeney, who, along with his son, Donald Feeney III, has been detained.

Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008

A new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found global military spending rose four percent last year to a record $1.46 trillion dollars despite the global financial crisis. Overall military spending has increased by 45 percent since 1999. The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58% of the total global spending increase during the past decade.

Obama Visits Site of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

On Friday President Barack Obama paid tribute to the six million victims of the Holocaust during a somber visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

He laid a white rose on the “living memorial” on the site where survivors erected a temporary monument for Buchenwald’s liberation in April 1945.

President Obama: “To this day we know there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, a denial of a fact or truth that is baseless, ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history. Also to this day there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and more. Hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.”

Couple Accused of Spying for Cuba

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been arrested on accusations they spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the charges ridiculous and questioned the timing of the arrests. Walter Kendall Myers, and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested just days after the Organization of American States lifted its forty-seven-year suspension of Cuba.

Nominee Linked to CIA Torture Declines Position

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has withdrawn from consideration amid questions about his links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd had been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents.

Palestinian Protester Shot Dead by Israeli Troops

In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man Friday in the village of Nilin during the weekly protest against the construction of Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Medics said the 35-year-old Aqel Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet and another protester was wounded when soldiers fired at the protesters. On Saturday close to 200 Israelis and Palestinians gathered near the West Bank city of Hebon to show their objection to the ongoing building of illegal Jewish settlements. An attempt to erect their own outpost named ‘Obama 2’ near the Jewish settlement of Sussiya was foiled by Israeli security forces, who tore the makeshift construction down. Meanwhile in Gaza, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza border earlier today. Israel claimed the men were militants trying to cross into Israel.

Gay Rights Activist Cleve Jones Calls For March On Washington

Prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones has called for a national march on Washington in October to demand that Congress establish equal rights for the lesbian, gay and transgender community. Jones conceived NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Civil Rights and AIDS Activist Dr. Alan Berkman Dies

And the longtime civil rights and AIDS activist Dr. Alan Berkman has died. Berkman was a founder of Health GAP which campaigns to eliminate barriers to global access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s Berkman provided medical care to Native American activists at Wounded Knee as well as inmates injured during the Attica prison uprising. In the 1980s Dr. Berkman was sentenced to eight years in jail for treating activists tied to the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground following a shoot-out with police in Nyack, New York.

Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on the private mercenary industry and the use of military contractors in the so-called “War on Terror.” Most often, these books have focused on one or two companies–for example Blackwater–and used them to draw conclusions about the industry as a whole.

Rolf Uesseler’s Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict takes a different approach and focuses on the industry as a whole and uses short case studies of specific companies in order to illustrate broader points. Instead of focusing solely on the “War on Terror” and the most recent wars of the United States, Uesseler takes a much broader view and looks at private military companies around the world. This may owe to the fact that the book was translated from German, but whatever the reason, it offers a welcome break from the typically U.S.-centered literature on the topic.

Uesseler examines how governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, warlords, drug cartels, and rebel groups have come to rely on private military companies to support a wide variety of activities. Private corporations use them to support resource extraction and to police sweatshops, states use them to prop up weak governments and enforce their rule, and intelligence agencies use them to facilitate illegal arms trades. States also use private military corporations to circumvent national laws. For example, a state can hire a private military contractor to fight a war or support one side in a war without needing to officially enter the conflict.

Through all of these activities, private military companies often operate in a legal gray area. The pursuit of profit is their main goal and all other concerns–including law–are often superseded by this goal. That is why in countries like Iraq we see mercenaries run amok–all the companies really care about is the constant flow of lucrative contracts. In many cases, there are no local laws that govern the conduct of mercenaries–as was initially the case in Iraq when they were granted immunity from prosecution–and the countries that send contractors often have little legal oversight of their activities. Moreover, in many cases private military companies subvert democratic notions and are able to conduct their activities with limited oversight and transparency.

In addition his examination of the contemporary activities of private military corporations, Uesseler also includes a brief overview of the historical evolution of mercenaries. He looks at their origins in Ancient Greece through the French Revolution when they largely went out of favor. However, with the end of the Cold War, they have experienced a resurgence. This resurgence is owed to many factors, among those Uesseler highlights a security vacuum with the collapse of the Cold War, conflicts in the Third World, a national energy policy in the United States that demands access to oil regardless of the cost, the increasingly technological orientation of warfare and militaries’ inability to keep up with the technological advances of the private sector, and similar technological gains in the intelligence sector.

Overall, Servants of War is one of the most comprehensive books on private military corporations. It’s very thorough and well-researched, and while that is good, it does make for reading that is a bit on the dry side of things. You will certainly walk away having learned a lot, but there are sure to be times when you wished the author wrote in a more engaging style. Nevertheless, it’s an important book that deserves to be read, especially by those who consider themselves anti-war.

Rolf Uesseler, Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict, (Soft Skull Press, 2008).

Headlines: Unemployment Rate Reaches 8.9%; Pentagon Requests $50 Billion for Secret Operations

Democracy Now Headlines: Unemployment Rate Reaches 8.9%; Pentagon Requests $50 Billion for Secret Operations

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.

At Least 430 Killed in Sri Lankan “Bloodbath”

In Sri Lanka, at least 430 civilians, including 100 children, have died after the Sri Lanka military shelled a civilian area under the control of the Tamil Tigers. But the actual death toll may be far higher. A pro-Tamil Tiger website estimates 3,200 civilians have died in what was the heaviest attack in the military’s attempt to eliminate the separatist group. Doctors say at least 1,100 people have been injured. The United Nations described the scene as a “bloodbath.” Doctors and priests working inside the civilian area blamed the attack on the Sri Lankan military. One Catholic priest inside the war zone said, “They are fighting civilians. They’re using cluster bombs, cannons. They’re shooting towards people.” But the Sri Lankan government accused the Tamil Tigers of shelling their own civilians. Sri Lanka has banned all journalists and international organizations from the conflict zone. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government deported three British journalists after they had reported on conditions in government-run refugee camps. A coalition of international human rights groups have called for the UN Security Council to urgently hold talks on the conflict.

US-Iranian Journalist Roxana Saberi to be Freed

The US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi will reportedly be set free later today after an Iranian court reduced her prison term to a two-year suspended sentence. Once released, Saberi is expected to be allowed to leave Iran. Saberi was sentenced last month to eight years in prison after being convicted in a secret trial of spying for the United States.

Unemployment Rate Hits 8.9%; 539,000 Lost Jobs in April

The nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.9 percent, the highest in twenty-six years. Five hundred thirty-nine thousand workers lost their jobs in April. The current unemployment rate would jump to nearly 16 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. African American workers remain the hardest hit by the economic crisis. The official black unemployment rate is now 15 percent, but economists estimate the actual rate is closer to 27 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attempted to put a somewhat positive spin on the latest unemployment numbers.

Timothy Geithner: “They’re encouraging, in some sense, because the rate of decline in the economy as a whole is slowing. You’re seeing some signs of stability. But these are enormously large numbers. You know, you had more than half a million Americans lose their jobs again. And it just underscores the fact that the economy as a whole is still going through a very challenging period.”

UN: Hundreds of Thousands Flee Fighting in Pakistan

The United Nations is estimating at least 360,000 people have fled heavy fighting in northwest Pakistan, causing the largest displacement crisis in Pakistan’s history. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees projects that there will soon be one million internally displaced persons in Pakistan. The refugees are fleeing the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani military claims it has killed 700 Taliban militants in recent days.

US Rejects Karzai’s Request to Halt Air Strikes in Afghanistan

President Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones, said Sunday that the US will continue carrying out air strikes in Afghanistan despite criticism from the Afghan government. During an interview on Meet the Press, Afghan president Hamid Karzai said the strikes are undermining US efforts in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai: “Our villages are not where the terrorists are. And that’s what we keep telling the US administration, that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages, not in the Afghan homes. Respect that. Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism and for the relations with America. How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?”

US Accused of Firing White Phosphorus in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, US and NATO forces have been accused of using white phosphorus munitions in Afghanistan. In one incident reported by Human Rights Watch, an eight-year-old Afghan girl was severely burned by white phosphorus in March. Her father said NATO forces had fired the rounds that caused her injuries.

Jury Acquits W.R. Graces in Libby, Montana Asbestos Case

A federal jury in Montana has acquitted chemical company W.R. Grace and three of its executives on all counts for knowingly exposing residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos poisoning. An estimated 1,200 residents of Libby have died or developed cancer or lung disease from exposure to asbestos-containing ore from a mine in the town. Community activist Gayla Benefield said, “They’ve gotten away with murder again, and that’s just the way it will always be.” Shares of W.R. Grace rose 36 percent on the news of the acquittal.

Coalition Pledges to Help Slow Growth of Healthcare Spending

A group of doctors, hospitals, drug makers and insurance companies are pledging to help slow the explosive growth of healthcare spending over the next decade. The voluntary pledge doesn’t aim at cutting healthcare spending overall, but merely restraining its rate of growth. In a letter to President Obama, the healthcare providers said they would reduce costs by simplifying administrative costs, making hospitals more efficient, reducing hospitalizations, managing chronic illnesses more effectively, and improving healthcare information technology. The voluntary cuts are being offered in an effort to stave off new government price constraints that might be imposed by Congress. According to the White House, the plan could save $2 trillion over the next decade. The trade groups making the pledge include the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the Service Employees International Union.

Obama Administration to Keep Bush’s Polar Bear Rule

The Obama administration said on Friday it will keep a Bush-era rule that plays down the link between the threatened status of the polar bear and climate change. Conservation and environmental groups criticized the Interior Department’s decision. Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The special rule is a death warrant for the polar bear. With its sea-ice habitat rapidly disappearing, the polar bear needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.” Alaska Governor Sarah Palin hailed the Obama administration’s decision as a “clear victory for Alaska,” because it removes the link between bear protection and climate change and should help North Slope oil and gas development.

Pentagon Requests Record $50 Billion Black Budget

The publication Aviation Week reports the Pentagon is requesting a record $50 billion for its secret black budget. This marks a three percent increase over last year’s total. The Pentagon budget for secret operations is now larger than the entire military budget of Britain, France or Japan.

Obama Calls for Reforming Credit Card Industry

In his weekly radio address, President Obama called on Congress to pass a “Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights” that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry.

President Obama: “Americans know that they have a responsibility to live within their means and pay what they owe. But they also have a right not to get ripped off by the sudden rate hikes, unfair penalties and hidden fees that have become all too common in our credit card industry. You shouldn’t have to fear that any new credit card is going to come with strings attached, nor should you need a magnifying glass and a reference book to read a credit card application. And the abuses in our credit card industry have only multiplied in the midst of this recession, when Americans can least afford to bear an extra burden.”

Israel Has Secret Plan to Thwart Division of Jerusalem

The Israeli government and settler organizations are secretly working to surround East Jerusalem with nine national parks, pathways and sites, drastically altering the geography of the city and to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, a move not recognized by the international community. The Guardian newspaper reports, under an eight-year plan, a series of nine national parks, trails and tourist sites based on apparent Jewish historical spots would be established, most under the control of settler groups working together with the Israeli government. The sites would also create a link to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The Israeli organization Peace Now says the secret plan for East Jerusalem might prevent the ability to reach a two-state solution.

Obama Renews Sanctions Against Syria

In other news from the Middle East, President Obama has renewed economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria. The sanctions were first put in place by President Bush four years ago.

Jacob Zuma Sworn In as South African President

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma has been sworn in as the country’s new president. He becomes South Africa’s third post-apartheid leader.

Jacob Zuma: “In the presence of everyone assembled here and in full realization of the high calling, I assume as president of the Republic of South Africa, I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law.”

65 Die in Somalia Fighting

In other news from Africa, at least sixty-five people have died in the Somali capital Mogadishu in heaving fighting between rival Islamist groups. More than 190 people have been injured.

Wanda Sykes Performs at White House Correspondents Dinner

And the White House Correspondents Association dinner was held Saturday in Washington. The comedian Wanda Sykes provided the evening’s entertainment.

Wanda Sykes: “It is truly an honor to be here. It really is. I keep getting asked the same question: you know, are you nervous? Are you nervous? I’m like, ‘With this administration, what is there to be nervous about?’ You know, if I do a good job, I get great press; and if I screw it up royally, Tim Geithner will give me a bonus.”

Headlines: Afghanistan Now Military’s ‘Main Effort’; KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

Democracy Now Headlines: Afghanistan Now Military's 'Main Effort'; KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

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.

Obama Proposes to Close Corporate Tax Loopholes

President Obama vowed Monday to overhaul tax policies that he said reward companies for shifting US jobs overseas and that allow wealthy people to evade taxes using offshore accounts. Obama said the White House plan would save taxpayers $210 billion over the next decade.

President Obama: “And that’s why today, I’m announcing a set of proposals to crack down on illegal overseas tax evasion, close loopholes, and make it more profitable for companies to create jobs here in the United States. For years, we’ve talked about ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs here in America.”

House Democrats Reject Funding to Close Guantanamo

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have rejected a request from President Obama for $80 million to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. House Democrats removed the funding request from a $94 billion emergency spending bill to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. House Appropriations Chair David Obey said the funding wasn’t included because Obama has not yet outlined a concrete plan to close Guantanamo.

Taliban Seizes Main Town in Swat Valley; Civilians Urged to Flee

In news from Pakistan, The Guardian reports the Taliban has seized control of Mingora, a main town in the Swat Valley, signaling the death knell for a fragile peace deal with the provincial government. Pakistani authorities are urging civilians to leave the region in a sign that a military attack on the Taliban in the Swat Valley may be imminent. For the last two weeks, Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in Buner and Lower Dir, two districts bordering Swat.

Kerry Pushes for Tripling US Aid to Pakistan

In Washington, Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced legislation for tripling US civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years.

Mullen: Afghanistan Is Now Military’s “Main Effort”

On Monday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officially designated the war in Afghanistan as the military’s main effort, while acknowledging the fighting isn’t over in Iraq. Mullen said, “The main effort in our strategic focus from a military perspective must now shift to Afghanistan.” But President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan is continuing to come under criticism from within parts of his own party. In an interview with the American News Project, former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern said he is worried Afghanistan will become President Obama’s Vietnam.

Sen. George McGovern: “I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan and with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration.”

Karzai Assailed for Picking Ex-Warlord to be Running Mate

In other news from Afghanistan, human rights organizations are expressing alarm over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to pick former warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim to be his running mate. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said, “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan. He is one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” Fahim is still believed to be involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

Pentagon Denies Troops Are Trying to Convert Afghans to Christianity

The US military is denying it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, following a report on Al Jazeera that showed pictures of soldiers with Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. The military claimed the Bibles were never distributed to Afghans. Al Jazeera also aired footage of Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, calling on soldiers to hunt people for Jesus.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The special forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”

The Pentagon criticized Al Jazeera’s report. Military spokesperson Colonel Greg Julian said, “Most of this is taken out of context…This is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism.”

All-White Jury Acquits Teens in Murder of Mexican Immigrant

The Justice Department is investigating whether to prosecute two white Pennsylvania teenagers on civil rights statutes for their role in the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah. On Friday, an all-white jury exonerated the two teenagers of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund condemned the jury’s finding. Witnesses said six teenagers brutally beat Luis Ramirez last year while yelling racial slurs. When a friend of Ramirez tried to stop the beating, one of the teenagers said, “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be laying next to him.”

Sen. Sessions Becomes Top Republican on Judiciary Committee

In news from Capitol Hill, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been named the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, replacing Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last week. Sessions will play a key role in the upcoming confirmation hearings for President Obama’s eventual nominee for the Supreme Court. Sessions is a staunch conservative who once described the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”

Report: Stress Tests Show 10 Banks Need More Capital

The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is expected to direct about ten of the nineteen banks undergoing government stress tests to boost their capital. The exact number of banks affected remains under discussion. It could include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and several regional banks.

Supreme Court Limits Identity Theft Law

The Supreme Court has ruled undocumented workers using false papers cannot be charged with aggravated identity theft unless they knew their fake IDs belonged to a real person. The Bush administration frequently charged undocumented immigrants with felony identity theft, which carries a two-year sentence. Prosecutors had used the threat of a felony to persuade undocumented workers to plead guilty to lesser charges of document fraud.

Louisiana State Board Sued for Not Probing Psychologist Tied to Torture

A Louisiana state board has been sued for failing to investigate possible professional and ethical violations committed by Larry James, who served as the chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The lawsuit alleges that James, a retired Army colonel, helped design and implement the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation programs. Larry James is a licensed psychologist in Louisiana. He is now the dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, Ohio. The lawsuit against the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists was filed by an Ohio-based psychologist named Trudy Bond.

Pentagon Auditor: KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

The Pentagon’s top auditor said the military contractor KBR constituted the “vast majority” of thirty-two cases of suspected combat-zone fraud referred by government auditors for criminal investigation. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton and is the Army’s largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Murtha’s Nephew Received $4 Million in No-Bid Pentagon Contracts

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about no-bid Pentagon contracts given to a nephew of Democrat John Murtha, the chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. The Washington Post reports Robert Murtha received $4 million in Pentagon contracts last year, all without competitive bidding.

Report: 2.4 Million Workers Lose Employer-Provided Health Insurance

The Center for American Progress is estimating 2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession. More than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance in March alone, which amounts to over 10,000 workers a day.

CODEPINK Disrupts AIPAC Conference

Members of the peace group CODEPINK disrupted Israeli President Shimon Peres’s speech Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. Members of the group raised banners “Want Peace? End the Occupation,” “What About Gaza?” and “No Money for War Crimes.”

NYT Postpones Threat to Close Boston Globe

In media news, the New York Times Company has postponed its threat to start the process of closing the Boston Globe after wringing major concessions from all but one of the Globe’s labor unions.

US Blocks Cuban Musician from Playing at Pete Seeger Concert

And the prominent Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez has criticized the Obama administration after the State Department blocked his entry into the United States to perform at Sunday’s ninetieth birthday celebration for Pete Seeger. Rodriguez said, “As a worker for Cuban culture, I still feel as blockaded and discriminated against as I do by other administrations…and I truly hope that changes someday.”

Petition Calls for 25% Reduction in Military Spending

Beyond War: Another Economy is Possible

Over the past few days, we’ve highlighted the percentage of income taxes that go to fund the military as well as President Barack Obama’s Defense budget, which actually increase the spending of the Bush administration.

United for Peace and Justice–one of the country’s largest anti-war groups–has a new petition online calling for a 25% decrease in military spending by 2010:

APPEAL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND THE U.S. CONGRESS: CUT MILITARY SPENDING 25% BY 2010

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work to end poverty, racism, and war, we, the people of the United States, call on the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to end the U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to address the economic and environmental crises by cutting military spending by 25% in 2010 and redirecting our tax dollars to housing, health care, education, green jobs, and clean energy.

The petition is part of the organization’s ongoing“Beyond War” campaign that seeks to connect the issues of war, racism, and poverty. The group is working to link the solutions to the current economic crisis to its long-term calls for ending the occupation.

It’s hard to say how effective the petition campaign will be, but it’s a lot easier than war tax resistance.

Obama’s Defense Budget to Increase in 2010

Obama's Defense Budget Increased Over Bush's

The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2010, announced last Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has been praised by the mainstream media for cutting funding to weapons programs. Although this is true — for example, the high profile F-22 fighter jet, a project that has been in development since 1986, costs $300 million per plane, and has been openly talked about by Gates as useless to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been cut. Yet, the overall budget is still increased by 3.4% — surpassing George Bush’s spending on defense by $20 billion, amounting to about $700 billion total.

Economic Stimulation Myth

Military spending is being portrayed as a sort of stimulus package by industry leaders and their publicists. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which represents more than 100 defense and aerospace corporations, claims that these corporations contribute $97 billion in exports a year and maintain 2 million jobs. Yet according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing, which includes some non-defense related corporations, employed 472,000 wage and salary workers in 2006.

The claim that spending more money on defense will stimulate the economy begs the question of why, after spending increasingly ludicrous amounts on defense since 2002, the U.S. is not experiencing an economic boom now. The truth is that spending billions on defense only stimulates the pockets of corporate CEOs. In 2002, the top three defense contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman – split $42 billion in Pentagon contracts. In 2007 (the latest year for which there is data), the Big Three split $69 billion. Yet, according to the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute, for every $1 billion invest in defense, 8,555 jobs are created. That same billion invested in health care creates 12, 883 jobs. Invested in education, it creates 17,687 jobs.

Implications for War

Part of Obama’s military budget includes an additional $130 billion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By cutting spending on weapons programs, Obama is not seeking to reduce the U.S.’s commitment to war – rather, he is looking to shift the focus of U.S. military capabilities away from traditional wars against other armies, to the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency skills needed for the type of wars the U.S. has been fighting since 2001. Obama continues to increase troops in Afghanistan – a 4,000-troop increase was announced on top of the 17,000-troop increase previously planned — and maintain the number of troops stationed in Iraq.

It is easy to see that despite cutting funding to some weapons programs, the overall defense budget increase, new focus, and increase in troops are clear signs that Obama is as committed to senseless war as his predecessor.

Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

Democracy Now Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

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.

North Korea Tests Long-Range Rocket

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday, hours after North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired a long-range rocket. The rocket flew over Japanese airspace before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea claimed the test was a success, but international experts disputed their claim. President Obama condemned the launch as “provocative.”

Obama Calls for Nuclear-Free World

Hours after the rocket launch, President Obama spoke in Prague and outlined a vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Obama said he wanted an immediate end to nuclear tests, confirmed and vowed to hold a global summit on nuclear security.

President Obama: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”

Last week, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on fast-track negotiations to slash their nuclear stockpiles by about a third from the end of this year. The US and Russia have a total of 23,000 nuclear weapons. President Obama is not the first US president to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Controlled universal disarmament is the imperative of our time.” Even President Ronald Reagan once proposed the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Czechs Protest US Missile Shield Base

While President Obama spoke in Prague, over 1,000 protesters gathered nearby to condemn US plans to build a missile shield system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Protesters included Jan Majicek of the No Bases Initiative.

Jan Majicek: “We are here to tell Barack Obama, who is now in Prague, that 70 percent of Czechs are against this plan and that we don’t want a foreign military base here in the Czech Republic.”

NATO Allies Refuse to Send More Combat Troops to Afghanistan

During the NATO summit in Strasbourg, European allies rejected President Obama’s request to send more combat troops to Afghanistan as part of the US escalation of the war. Instead, NATO nations will send 3,000 soldiers to assist in securing the national elections scheduled for August and 2,000 military trainers to help the Afghan army. Outside the NATO meeting, some 30,000 people took part in protests along the French-German border condemning the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Police arrested 325 people. At least three buildings were set on fire, including a hotel and a border post.

Obama Ends Overseas Trip in Turkey

President Obama is in Turkey today making his first visit to a Muslim nation as president.

President Obama: “I have now spent a week traveling through Europe, and I’ve been asked, ‘Are you trying to make a statement by ending this week-long trip in Turkey?’ And the answer is yes, I am trying to make a statement. I’m trying to make a statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world.”

Mass Shootings Spur Call for New Gun Control Laws

Gun control advocates are urging lawmakers to rewrite the nation’s gun control laws after mass shootings in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Washington state. In Binghamton, New York, a gunman attacked an immigration center on Friday, killing thirteen people before taking his own life. Most of the dead were immigrants who were taking classes at the immigration center. The gunman was a Vietnamese-born immigrant who recently lost his job.

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski: “What we do know is Mr. Wong arrived at that residence wearing body armor, which would tell us that at one point in his thinking process he was going to take the police on or at least try to stop us from stopping him. He must have been a coward. We speculate when he heard the sirens that he decided to end his own life, so that’s what–he was heavily armed, had a lot of ammunition on him. And thank God, before more lives were lost, that he decided to do that.”

On Saturday in Pittsburgh, three police officers were shot dead as they responded to a domestic violence call. Meanwhile, in Washington state a thirty-four-year-old man shot dead his five children on Saturday before killing himself. The children were between the ages of seven and sixteen. There was also a series of high-profile mass shootings last month in North Carolina, California and Alabama that killed a total of twenty-three people. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The laws on the books aren’t getting the job done. Now is the time to take effective steps to prevent gun violence.” According to the Brady Campaign, about 30,000 people die every year in the United States from gun violence. That’s about eighty people a day.

One in Six Americans Now Unemployed or Underemployed

In economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent, the highest it’s been in twenty-five years. 663,000 jobs were lost last month. A total of 5.1 million jobs have been lost in the past fourteen months. The current unemployment rate would jump to 15.6 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. This means one in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.

Wall Street Firms Gave Lawrence Summers Millions in 2008

Newly released documents show Lawrence Summers, one of President Obama’s top economic aides, received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Goldman Sachs paid Summers $135,000 last April for a single speech. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund.

Thousands Protest on Wall Street

In New York, thousands marched on Wall Street Saturday on the forty-first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice helped organize the protest.

Leslie Cagan: “Decades of bloated military spending have undermined our economic security. Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars year in and year out into war, into weapons of mass destruction, into militarism and military spending, that money should have been used and now must be used to reinvest in our communities. Our communities need schools, we need healthcare, we need a completely restructured infrastructure, we need money pouring into job creation, and we need to deal with the global crisis of the environment. So there’s much to do, above and beyond bailing out bankers and continuing to pour money into wars.”

Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a ten-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, making Iowa the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The ruling takes effect April 24. Meanwhile, Swedish lawmakers voted last week to make Sweden become the fifth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

26 Killed in Iraqi Car Bombings

In Iraq, five car bombs exploded across Baghdad today, killing twenty-six people and wounding scores. The bombings come following a week of arrests in Baghdad by Iraq’s Shiite-led government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils.

Pakistan Taliban Unleashes Wave of Suicide Attacks

In Pakistan, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban is threatening to launch two suicide attacks per week if the Obama administration does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory. Over the weekend, at least thirty-eight people died in three suicide attacks. In the deadliest bombing, twenty-two people died in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the capital of Islamabad.

Report: 1 Million Pakistanis Displaced by US Drone Attacks

On Saturday, a suspected US drone attack killed thirteen people in North Waziristan. The Sunday Times of London reports as many as one million Pakistanis have fled their homes to escape the attacks by the unmanned US drones.

Protests Condemn Public Flogging of Pakistani Girl

Meanwhile, protests were held across Pakistan this weekend over a video that showed the public flogging of a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The video showed the girl being pinned down by three men and lashed thirty-four times. Under a deal with the Pakistani government, the Swat Valley is now ruled by Islamic law. The girl had been accused of being seen with a man who was not her husband.

Israeli Newspapers Remove Female Cabinet Ministers from Photo

In Israel, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers have digitally manipulated a photograph of Israel’s new cabinet, removing two female ministers. One newspaper changed the photo by replacing the two female cabinet members with men. Another newspaper blacked the women out. The ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women. Limor Livnat is Israel’s new Minister of Culture & Sport. Sofa Landver is the country’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption.

Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed

Amnesty International has revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. Amnesty said a German cargo ship carrying about 14,000 tons of arms docked in late March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about twenty-five miles north of Gaza. The ship left for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

New York Times Threatens to Close Boston Globe

In media news, the New York Times Company is threatening to close the Boston Globe within thirty days unless the Globe’s unions agree to $20 million in cuts. The concessions would likely involve pay cuts and ending contributions by the company to employee pension plans. Last month, the New York Times Company laid off 100 employees and cut salaries for non-union workers by five percent.

Media Covers US War Dead’s Return After 18-Year Ban

The media was permitted on Sunday to cover the arrival of a US soldier’s coffin at the Pentagon’s main mortuary in Delaware for the first time in eighteen years. President Barack Obama has relaxed a Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning US war dead, giving grieving families the choice of whether to allow cameras at the solemn arrival ceremony. On Sunday, a flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base. The thirty-year-old soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Report: Obama to Lift Restrictions on Family Travel to Cuba

The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba. This would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. Obama, however, has rejected calls to lift the embargo. Meanwhile, a group of US lawmakers arrived in Havana Friday. This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): “We’re here to engage in discussions with regard to US-Cuba relations. Personally, I believe, many believe, that it’s time to talk to Cuba, and we want to find out what the dialog should entail, and we’ll communicate this very clearly to our government officials upon our return.”

Egyptian Police Arrest 25 Ahead of Nationwide Protests

And in Egypt, police arrested twenty-five people Sunday ahead of today’s nationwide protest against the policies of President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow Party, a key organizer of today’s protests, which are being held on the first anniversary of an uprising in an industrial town north of Cairo that was brutally repressed by Egyptian security forces. Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in presidential elections in 2005, was arrested soon after the elections and released this February after spending over three years in prison. He spoke to Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat last month about the demands his party would raise at the protests on this April 6th.

Ayman Nour: “We are giving the government one year to reform the constitution and to lift the barriers preventing widespread participation in politics and elections. If our demands are not met–and these are reformist, democratic demands–we will call for a general strike on April 6th of 2010. The future of the current Egyptian regime depends on its ability to understand that its role must come to an end, that it must provide a real opportunity for power to circulate among the Egyptians. It has to give the Egyptian people their right to choose their rulers and representatives without texts that restrict and frustrate these rights and freedoms to the extent that they don’t exist at all or become some kind of a mirage.”