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.

Phyllis Bennis on the Possibility of “Peace in Palestine”

On Saturday, well-known author and activist Phyllis Bennis spoke in Dearborn, Michigan at an event sponsored by the Palestine Office. The event was a commemoration of the 61st anniversary of Al-Nakba and was titled “Finally, Peace in Palestine ‘Yes We Can!’ 61 Years Late.”

Bennis’ talk looks at the current situation in Palestine and the prospects for change:

Note: This video was submitted to us by Thomas Rico, you can check out his blog for more related video at ricothomasrico.blogspot.com.

Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Democracy Now Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

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.

Estimates of Afghan Toll Rise in U.S. Bombing

Estimates of the dead from Monday’s U.S. bombing of the Afghan province of Farah are now reaching as high as two hundred. Images released from the area show villagers sorting through the rubble of the devastating attack. An unidentified village elder said he had lost dozens of relatives.

Villager: “We have discovered dead bodies of fifty two people. There might be still more bodies undiscovered. These martyred people were civilian residents of this area. All these fifty two martyred are either my nephews, nieces or my grandchildren.”

The Red Cross has confirmed “dozens” of civilians were killed, including many women and children. The attack could prove to be the deadliest U.S. bombing of Afghan civilians since the U.S. invasion of 2001. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed U.S. regret.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I wish to express, you know, my personal regrets and certainly the sympathy of our administration on the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. We deeply regret it. We don’t know all of the circumstances or causes. And there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours. But any loss of life, any loss of innocent life is particularly painful.”

The U.S. military is suggesting it has evidence showing the victims were actually killed by Taliban grenades, but hasn’t offered any proof.

Obama Hosts Karzai, Zardari at White House

Karzai was in Washington along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The two leaders later met President Obama, who said they all face the same enemy in the Taliban.

President Obama: “The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked. In the weeks that have followed, that truth has only been reinforced. Al Qaeda and its allies have taken more lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have continued to challenge the democratically elected governments of the two presidents standing here today. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda plots against the American people and people around the world from their safe haven along the border.”

Zardari and Karzai’s visit to Washington comes as lawmakers take up an Obama administration request for $2.3 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan and more than $800 million dollars in military assistance for Afghanistan. In a split with Democratic leaders, House Appropriations Chair David Obey is proposing the U.S. condition the funding on the Afghan and Pakistani governments’ ability to meet several benchmarks.

At Least 12 Killed in Iraq Bombings

In Iraq, at least twelve people were killed Wednesday in two separate bombings in Baghdad. Most of the victims died in an attack on a crowded vegetable market, killing eleven people and wounding at least thirty-seven. A local grocer witnessed the bombing.

Witness: “The truck entered the market and people were slaughtered. What did porters, grocers and farmers do to deserve to be killed?”

Violence has recently increased around Baghdad, with last month being the deadliest in more than a year.

U.S. Military Drops Case Against Officer Who Refused Iraq Deployment

The U.S. military has dropped its attempt to retry to Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a military request to withdraw an appeal of a lower-court ruling that said a second court-martial would have violated Watada’s right against double jeopardy. Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial. Watada’s attorney says he intends to leave the military and attend law school.

AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks

The pro-Israeli government lobby group AIPAC has launched a new campaign to prevent the Obama administration from pressuring Israel to engage in peace talks. AIPAC is urging lawmakers to sign on to a Congressional measure that urges Obama not to dictate how Israel negotiates with Palestinian leaders. The administration says it supports a two-state solution, though it hasn’t called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories where a Palestinian state would be created. Israel opposes the two-state solution and wants to retain Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

Israel Rejects UN Report

Meanwhile the Israeli government has rejected the findings of a UN report that found it deliberately and recklessly attacked UN facilities and personnel during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Speaking at UN headquarters Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel rejects the report’s every word.

Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We have the regard for the Secretary-General. We don’t accept one word of what the board writes. They didn’t have to write it. They were unfair. They were one-sided.”

Group: Israel Interrogating Gaza Patients

Meanwhile in Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli medical human rights group says a growing number of Palestinian patients have been interrogated by Israeli agents before leaving the Gaza Strip for medical care. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights says at least 438 patients were interrogated while trying to leave Gaza between January 2008 and March of this year.

Senate to Hold Torture Memo Hearing

Back in the United States, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has announced plans to convene the first Congressional hearing on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Whitehouse says he plans to call on witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow.

Post-9/11 Rules Impeded Swine Flu Response

U.S. health officials have confirmed they were delayed in responding to the swine flu outbreak because of Bush administration rules imposed after the 9/11 attacks. The Financial Times reports Mexican officials sent samples from infected patients in mid-April. But U.S. restrictions on imported biological materials meant the samples first had to be sent for analysis in Canada. American scientists had already analyzed several swine flu cases without realizing it was the same virus. There have now been two confirmed swine flu deaths in the U.S., both in Texas.

Probe: FBI Terror List Harms National Security

A Justice Department probe has found the FBI’s “terrorist watch list” has endangered national security by retaining some 24,000 names without justification while excluding many who have been investigated. In addition to risking national security, the probe fond the watch list has also caused lengthy delays at airports, along highways and other travel areas in the United States.

Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage; New Hampshire to Follow

Maine has become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Democratic governor John Baldacci signed a measure backing sex-same marriage following its approval in the Maine legislature. New Hampshire is expected to follow suit as early as today. New Hampshire lawmakers have sent Democratic Governor John Lynch a similar measure to sign into law.

Senate Passes Stripped-Down Mortgage Bill

The Senate has approved a foreclosure assistance bill providing limited help for struggling homeowners. The measure would protect mortgage service companies from lawsuits in return for taking part in federal loan modification programs. It would also give renters of foreclosed properties at least ninety-days eviction notice and spend some $2.6 billion dollars on curbing homelessness. Last week, the Senate dropped a key amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners.

Study: Subprime Firms Spent $370M on Lobbying

Meanwhile a new study shows the top twenty-five companies responsible for subprime mortgages spent nearly $370 million dollars in lobbying over the past decade. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the companies originated an estimated $1 trillion dollars in subprime loans between 2005 and 2007. Most of them are now out of business.

Thousands Evacuated in California Wildfires

In California, wildfires have erupted around Santa Barbara County. More than 8,000 residents have been evacuated as firefighters try to contain the blaze.

Wal-Mart Reaches Settlement in Worker Trampling Death

The retail giant Wal-Mart has reached a settlement to avoid charges for the death of a worker crushed by a stampede of shoppers last December. Thirty-four-year-old Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of 2,000 broke down store doors and ran him over shortly before the store’s opening. Wal Mart will pay nearly $2 million dollars and pledge to improve safety at its New York stores.

Poll: Majority Support Legalizing Marijuana

A new poll has found a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. According to Zogby, fifty-two percent of Americans say it “makes sense to tax and regulate” marijuana.

Chair of N.Y. Fed Scrutinized for Shares in Goldman Sachs

And in financial news, each of the twelve regional Federal Reserve banks have been found to have directors who are either board members of banks or who own shares in bank holding companies. Consumer advocates say directors of Fed banks shouldn’t have any financial ties to the institutions they’re supposed to regulate. Scrutiny is focusing on Stephen Friedman, the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal revealed Friedman was given a waiver to hold shares in his former company Goldman Sachs even after it became a regulated bank-holding firm. Friedman was also found to have bought the shares in Goldman Sachs before he was granted the legal waiver. The shares are now estimated to be worth more than $2 million dollars.

Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

Democracy Now Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

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.

Government Might Become Majority GM Shareholder

General Motors has offered its final plan to reorganize in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. The car company has proposed slashing bond debt, cutting over 21,000 more U.S. jobs and emerging as a nationalized automaker under majority control by the U.S. government. The proposed restructuring would also shut down GM’s Pontiac operations. As part of the restructuring, GM is asking the Treasury Department for an additional eleven point six billion dollars in loans, in addition to the fifteen point four billion it has already received.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson: “I do think that General Motors will remain a global corporation without a doubt, but I think there’s no question in my mind also that the nature of those global relationships will change.”

Henderson said GM would probably declare bankruptcy if the bondholders reject the terms. By the time it is finished, G.M. expects to have only 38,000 union workers and 34 factories left in the United States, compared with nearly 400,000 workers in more than 150 plants at its peak employment in 1970.

Report: UAW To Own 55% of Chrysler Under Restructuring Deal

There are major developments in the proposed restructuring of Chrysler. The car company and labor leaders have agreed to a tentative deal where the United Auto Workers union’s retiree health-care fund would become the majority shareholder of Chrysler in exchange for cutting in half what the automaker owes the health care trust.

WHO Raises Pandemic Threat Level Over Swine Flu Fears

The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic threat level one notch as more cases of swine flu become known. In Mexico officials say 149 people have died from influenza but only 26 of the deaths have been confirmed to be swine flu. Nearly 2,000 people have been hospitalized with serious pneumonia. In the United States, the Centers For Disease Control has doubles it s number of confirmed U.S. cases to 48. Cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain, Britain and Israel but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico.

Flu expert Dr. John McCauley: “I think we are facing the danger of pandemic for the following reasons. One, this is a new virus that humans have not seen before. We have not come across a virus exactly like that. We have seen other H1N1s but not this particular variant. And so it’s a new virus to which humans appear to have no significant immunity. Secondly, it is spreading human to human. And so these are the hallmarks of a virus that could become a pandemic virus.”

CDC Dismisses EU Travel Advisory

Mexico has responded to the outbreak by shutting down all schools nationwide for more than a week and placing limits on public gatherings. The European Union has urged travelers to avoid the United States and Mexico “unless it is very urgent for them.” Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, criticized the EU travel warning.

Richard Besser: “Based on the situation in the United States right now, I think it is quite premature to be putting travel restrictions on people coming to the United States. We have 20 cases of swine flu, we’re doing active surveillance. So far we’ve seen one hospitalization.”

Researchers believe the outbreak of swine flu may have occurred near a Mexican factory pork farm partly owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of hogs in the United States. At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned poor nations may be hit particularly hard by the flu outbreak.

Ban Ki-Moon: “The swine flu outbreak shows yet again that in our interconnected world no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own. Poor nations are especially vulnerable. They have been hit hard by other crisis this year-food, energy, the global economy, climate change. We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis.”

380 Same-Sex Couples Marry in Iowa

In Iowa, more than 380 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses Monday following a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Dozens of couples held weddings Monday after being granted waivers of Iowa’s three-day waiting period.

Jennifer Waldron: “I’m actually quite overwhelmed right now with emotion which actually really surprises me. but just to have the validation from the public that we are in a loving and committed relationship and that it’s important.”

91 Disability Rights Activists Arrested Outside White House

Over 100 people were arrested in Washington on Monday during a series of unrelated demonstrations. 91 disability rights activists were arrested after members of the group ADAPT chained their wheelchairs to the White House fence. The protest was held to raise awareness of the Community Choice Act, pending legislation that they said would allow disabled individuals to use their Medicaid payments for community-based services.

Five Members of Congress Arrested At Sudanese Embassy

Five members of Congress were arrested Monday outside the Sudanese embassy during a demonstration condemning Sudan’s decision to expel 16 aid agencies from Darfur.

The arrested included Democrats John Lewis of Georgia, Keith Ellison on Minnesota, Lynn Woolsey of California, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. They were charged with crossing a police line, a misdemeanor, and released.

Seven Greenpeace Activists Arrested

Also on Monday seven Greenpeace activists were arrested for scaling a construction crane and unfurling a banner with a picture of Earth and the message “Too big to fail.”

Blackwater Training Site in Illinois Picketed; 22 Arrested

In Mt. Carroll, Illinois, 22 people were arrested Monday at a protest outside a training site run by Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

30,000 Pakistanis Flee Fighting in Northwest Region

In Pakistan as many as 30,000 people have fled Northwest Pakistan in recent days to escape fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani military. Al Jazeera reports civilians left their homes after the Pakistani military began their assault on Sunday against Taliban fighters in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat valley. The military action in Lower Dir comes weeks after the government allowed the Taliban to implement their interpretation of Islamic law in the neighboring Swat valley. Critics of Pakistan’s deal with fighters in Swat say that it has only emboldened the Taliban.

Sri Lanka Blocks UN Aid Mission

The Sri Lankan military has blocked a United Nations aid mission from entering the area where the Sri Lankan military continues to attack Tamil Tiger separatists. Some 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the conflict zone. John Holmes, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, failed in his attempt to bring a halt to the fighting.

John Holmes: “I think our view is that the key point is when this conflict comes to an end, however it ends, I think it is much better if it ends without more civilian bloodshed, then there is a real need to address the political issues, to define solutions to the political problems which underlie all this, to react in a generous way to make sure that not only win the military victory but win the peace as well. Obviously that is the solution.”

Meanwhile Sweden’s foreign minister has been refused entry to Sri Lanka. Carl Bildt was due to visit Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE. On Sunday the Sri Lankan government rejected a Tamil Tiger call for a unilateral ceasefire.

Obama Admin Seeks Reversal of Mountaintop Mining Rule

The Interior Department said Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will ask the Justice Department to go to the courts to withdraw the Bush regulation and send it back to Interior to stop the policy.

Report: Israel Built 9,000 Homes in Occupied Territories Under Olmert

A new report has determined the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert built or issued bids for some 9,000 settlement homes for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli watchdog groups Peace Now and Ir Amim urged President Barack Obama to step in quickly and pressure Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt further settlement expansion.

Group: 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948. A total 860 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 161 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting.

Detained Iranian-American Journalist Continues Hunger Strike

The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has entered her second week of a hunger strike protesting her imprisonment in Iran. She was sentenced earlier this month to eight years of imprisonment this month on charges of spying for Washington. Her father, Reza Saberi, said she plans to continue her hunger strike until she is released. Roxana turned 32 on Sunday.

Conde Naste Closes Portfolio Magazine

And in media news, Conde Nast has decided to close the two-year-old magazine Portfolio. Meanwhile newly released statistics show paid weekday newspaper circulation has fallen seven percent over the past six months.

Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

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.

Rice, Ashcroft Approved Torture in July 2002

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.

Report: Obama Rejected Investigative Commission on Torture

The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s reponse as: “I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this.”

Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing

The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, “The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program.”

Judge Upholds Habeus Corpus for Gitmo Prisoner

A federal judge has rejected a government motion to dismiss or delay a challenge to the jailing of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. He’s claimed he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan interrogators unless he admitted to the charges. His case was one of five that led Guantanamo military prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld to resign last year. On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected the government’s attempts to deny Jawad habeas corpus. Attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “While the Justice Department chose to continue Bush administration policies that sought to evade scrutiny of Mr. Jawad’s unlawful detention, today’s order emphasizes the importance of independent judicial review for prisoners who have been held for years with no legal recourse.”

Obama: Days of US Inaction on Energy Crisis “Now Over”

President Obama visited Iowa Wednesday to mark International Earth Day. Speaking at a wind plant, Obama vowed to change US inaction on combating global warming.

President Obama: “If we’ve got problems with climate change and the temperature rising all around the world, that knows no boundaries. The decisions of any nation will affect every nation. So, next week I will be gathering leaders of major economies from all around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis and this climate crisis. Truth is, the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process, working with other nations. But those days are over now.”

White House Withholds Endorsement on Bill Capping Emissions

Despite Obama’s comments, the White House is so far refusing to endorse the nation’s first-ever bill to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As lawmakers opened hearings on Wednesday, top Obama environment officials said they are still studying the measure and have yet to make a decision. Energy industry lobbyists are vocally opposing the bill. It calls for reducing emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and reducing them by 83 percent by 2050. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a new timeline for passing legislation, saying it would take more than a year. Her comments came one day after vowing to pass legislation this year.

UN Holds Climate Talks Ahead of Copenhagen Summit

As debate on the emissions bill began in Washington, the UN opened the year’s first ministerial-level meeting in talks toward reaching a new global climate deal at the Copenhagen summit later this year. The UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said US involvement in agreeing to emissions cuts is essential.

Yvo de Boer: “Trying to come to a long-term response on climate change without the United States makes no sense. In other words, US engagement is essential. And what is very encouraging is that President Obama is committed to this issue, is committed to taking action in the United States.”

IMF: Global Economy to Shrink 1.3%

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the global economy will decline this year for the first time since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the IMF said the global economy would see a 1.3 percent decline in what it called “by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.” Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US bears significant responsibility for the global decline.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We bear in the United States a substantial responsibility, a substantial share of the responsibility for what has happened. But the factors that have made this crisis so acute and so difficult to contain lie in a broader set of global forces that built up in the years before the start of the present downturn. Never before has so much of the world been simultaneously hit by a confluence of economic and financial turmoil.”

Freddie Mac CFO Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

The chief financial officer of the troubled government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac has been found dead in an apparent suicide. Police say the body of forty-one-year-old David Kellermann was found hanging in his Virginia home. Kellermann was named Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer in September after sixteen years at the company. He came under scrutiny earlier this month after it was revealed he and other top Freddie Mac executives stood to receive some $210 million in bonuses over the next two years.

Red Cross: “Hundreds” Killed or Wounded in Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross is warning scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest military attacks on the remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold. Tens of thousands remain trapped between the crossfire. In a statement, the Red Cross said it couldn’t precisely identify the number of civilian casualties but said they are in the “hundreds.”

Taliban Fighters Seize Control of Pakistani District

In Pakistan, Taliban militants have seized control of a new area just seventy miles from the capital Islamabad. The Buner district has a population of more than one million people.

Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

The Israeli military says it’s concluded an investigation absolving its forces of committing any crimes during the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip beginning late last year. Israeli military deputy chief of staff General Dan Harel said Israel’s lone mistakes came down to intelligence and operational errors.

General Dan Harel: “We found out that the IDF operated under the international law and according to a very high standard of professionalism and moral standards. Saying that, we found out several mistakes-intelligence and operations mistakes we made, and we are dealing with them.”

Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians during the Gaza attack, most of them women and children. It bombed crowded civilian areas, ambulances, aid compounds, UN facilities, mosques and several schools. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the Israeli investigation as a sham.

Ayman Taha: “This is a mockery of all the crimes that have been committed against our people. And the reason that the Israeli army cannot consider what has happened in the Gaza Strip as criminal is because the criminal himself cannot also be the judge. Therefore, these findings of Israeli army innocence are unreliable. The crimes that have been committed are crystal clear.”

The Israeli probe comes ahead of a UN investigation headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch called the IDF move a preliminary reaction to the UN’s anticipated findings.

Bill Van Esveld: “This appears to be a whitewash investigation that is happening just before the Goldstone investigation mandated by the United Nations. And it seems to prove the point that Human Rights Watch has been making all along, which is that there needs to be an independent and impartial United Nations investigation into these allegations of laws of war violations, because the IDF has not lived up to the job.”

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home in East Jerusalem

In other news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has defied U.S. warnings and demolished another Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s few mild criticisms of Israel have centered around destroying homes on Palestinian land. The home belonged to the Hudidon family, which includes seven children.

Clinton Vows Continued U.S. Boycott of Palestinians

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed U.S. vows to boycott the Palestinian government unless Hamas meets U.S.-Israeli demands. Clinton testified Wednesday before the House foreign affairs committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. And that is our policy and that is exactly what is guiding us, but we want to leave open the door that that can happen.”

The policy of opening the door to Hamas’ acceptance marks a slight rhetorical deviation from Bush administration policy, which unequivocally rejected any dealings with Hamas. But it continues the Bush policy of imposing conditions on Palestinians not imposed on Israel. Israel has long refused to renounce violence, recognize Palestine or agree to uphold prior agreements. In response to Clinton’s comments, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said: “Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections.” Meanwhile, Clinton was also asked about former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comments the Obama administration’s rollback of Bush torture policies is endangering the nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well it won’t surprise you I don’t consider him a particularly reliable source.”

This week Cheney called for the release of documents that could prove what he called the “success” of the Bush administration’s torture methods in gaining new intelligence.

Internal Displacements Rise in Colombia

In Colombia, a new report says the number of internally displaced people continued to rise last year. Jorge Rojas of Colombia’s Human Rights and Displacement Council attributed most of the displacements to right-wing Colombian paramilitaries.

Jorge Rojas: “It is an unfortunate figure for us because it shows an increasing tendency. It shows that the number of displaced people in Colombian is still growing due to the armed conflict, human rights violations and infractions against the human rights. Last year, we registered the displacement of about 380,000 people. This shows a 24 percent increase compared to the year before.”

Colombia has the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. Most of the refugees are indigenous, peasant workers or Afro-Colombians.

Morales Addresses UN in Earth Day Speech

Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In a speech marking international Earth Day, Morales criticized former President George W. Bush for supporting a failed coup plot against him last year. He also addressed the controversy surrounding last week’s Bolivian police killing of three people in an alleged assassination plot against him. Morales also discussed the World Bank, which he said is no longer trying to impose privatization as a condition for loans.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Before it used to impose conditions on Bolivia in order for us to have access to loans. In the first year of my government, some World Bank representatives came to Bolivia and they tried to blackmail me, and I said, ‘OK, if it’s unconditional help, fine, but if it’s conditioned to privatization of basic services, privatization of natural resources, then no.'”

Morales went on to call for adding new text to the UN resolution establishing Earth Day, saying it should affirm the right of ecosystems, plants or animals to exist without threat of irresponsible human acts.

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Seeks Peru Asylum

A Venezuelan opposition leader is seeking asylum in Peru over what he calls political persecution at home. Manuel Rosales is in the Peruvian capital of Lima where government officials say they’re examining his asylum request. On Wednesday, a Venezuelan judge ordered Rosales’ arrest on corruption charges.

ANC Leads Returns in South African Elections

In South Africa, tens of millions of people voted Wednesday in national elections. The ruling African National Congress is leading initial returns. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is poised to become president, overcoming recent controversies that have included allegations of rape and corruption.

Reports: GM to Close U.S. Plants for 9 Weeks

And back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors is reportedly planning on closing most of its U.S. factories for up to nine weeks this summer. GM faces a June 1st deadline to qualify for additional government loans on top of the more than $13 billion dollars it’s already received.

Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Democracy Now Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

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 Releases Bush Torture Memos, Assures No Prosecutions for CIA Interrogators

The Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos that gave CIA interrogators the legal basis for torture at Guantanamo Bay and other foreign jails. The techniques described include waterboarding, holding prisoners in small dark boxes, bashing their heads against walls, subjecting them to insects, forced nudity, shackling and sleep deprivation. The memos also include extensive legal arguments as to why these tactics do not amount to torture under US and international law. In an accompanying statement, President Obama said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for following the memos’ guidelines. More on this story after headlines.

Gitmo Prisoner: “Life is Going to Hell”

Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office. In a letter to his attorney, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif said: “I have seen death so many times. Everything is over, life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?” A Yemeni national, Abdul Latif has been imprisoned since 2001.

Study: Iraqi Women and Children Account for Most Victims of U.S. Air Strikes

A new study says the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of U.S.-led air strikes have been women and children. According to the group Iraq Body Count, Iraqi women and children amounted to eighty-five percent of victims of known gender or age. The study covered a sample of more than 60,000 deaths over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion.

16 Killed in Suicide Attack on Iraqi Base

In other Iraq news, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province. Another fifty were wounded.

In Mexico, Obama Resists Call to Re-impose Assault Weapons Ban

President Obama visited Mexico on Thursday for the first time since taking office. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama vowed U.S. cooperation in cracking down on drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Obama: “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like… but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.”

Despite the talk of cooperation, Obama rejected Calderon’s key demand to push for re-imposing the Congressional assault weapons ban. Calderon says violence has significantly increased since the ban expired in 2004.

Mexicans Protest U.S. Immigration Raids, Deportations

As Obama arrived in Mexico City, hundreds of people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy to call for humane immigration reform in the United States. Leading the protest was Elvira Arellano, who was deported to Mexico in August 2007 following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. Arellano called on Obama to impose a moratorium on immigration raids.

Elvira Arellano: “We are in solidarity with all those children who are living in fear of being deported together with their parents after raids. Raids continue to occur day after day at two, three or five in the morning. There are raids, deportations and we are asking President Obama to sign an executive order to stop raids and deportations.”

Cuba Renews Call for U.S. Talks

President Obama heads to the island of Trinidad today for the Summit of Americas. He’s expected to face calls to lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Appearing alongside visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval summed up the stance of most summit participants in calling for a lifting of the blockade.

Haitian President Rene Preval: “We have a wish, which is that of the United Nations. And that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so they can take part in this important dialogue. Cuba is a friend of Haiti’s.”

Cuba is not invited to the Americas summit. Speaking in Venezuela Thursday, Cuban President Raoul Castro repeated his call for direct talks with the United States.

3 Killed in Alleged Morales Assassination Plot

In Bolivia, three foreign nationals were killed and two arrested in what the Bolivian government called a thwarted assassination plot on President Evo Morales. Bolivian officials said a shootout broke out after police tried to arrest the suspects at a hotel in the Santa Cruz.

Russia Announces Formal End to Chechnya Operations

Russia has announced a formal end to military operations in Chechnya. On Thursday, the Russian government said it would remove the last of security restrictions that have been in place since its military invaded Chechnya ten years ago. Russia will still maintain a force of some 20,000 troops and police officers.

Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks

The Israeli government is rebuffing mild U.S. calls for peace talks with Palestinians towards reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a pre-condition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the U.S. will insist on pursuing a two-state solution.

George Mitchell: “It is in the United State’s national interest that there will be a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, that should include settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state living side by side alongside the Jewish state of Israel in peace, and hopefully stability and prosperity. We are going to do all we can for the rest of this visit and over the coming weeks and months to move towards that objective.”

Report: U.S. Will Impose Two-State Settlement

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth is reporting meanwhile the Obama administration is prepared to force the Israeli government to accept a two-state peace deal. An unidentified Jewish leader quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as saying: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” The Obama administration has yet to outline whether the two-state solution it favors would meet minimal Palestinian rights. Previous U.S.-backed proposals would have still left Israel in control of the large West Bank settlement blocs on Palestinian land.

Israel Rejects UN War Crimes Probe

The Israeli government has informed the UN it will refuse to cooperate with an investigation into whether it committed war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council named former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to head the probe.

Israeli Air Strike Destroys Gaza Home

Meanwhile an Israeli air strike destroyed a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. It was the first Israeli air strike on Gaza in over a month.

Gazans, Journalists Mark 1-Year Anniversary of Israeli Killing of Cameraman, Youths

In other news from Gaza, journalists from around the world gathered in Gaza City to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16, 2008 after an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle that was clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell before his camera goes black. The attack also killed eight Palestinian youths aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald was among those to speak at Shana’s memorial.

Alastair Macdonald: “The grief and anguish that greeted the killing of Fadel last April the 16th at the age of just 24, was a mark not only of the affection in which he was held by his family and friends but of the reputation he enjoyed as an independent journalist determined through his work with Reuters to inform the wider world about life in a conflict here in the Gaza Strip.”

No member of the Israeli military has been prosecuted for the attack that killed Shana and the eight Palestinian youths.

Report: Somali Pirate to Be Tried in U.S.

CBS News is reporting the lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain last week will be brought to New York to face charges in a U.S. court. The pirate, 19-year-old Abdulwali Muse, surrendered before U.S. Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat.

Obama Announces New Transit Funding

Back in the United States, President Obama has announced a thirteen billion dollar plan to invest in a national mass-transit rail system. Obama unveiled the proposal shortly before leaving for Mexico.

President Obama: “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper, and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system. And everybody stands to benefit.”

Eight billion dollars will come out of the federal stimulus package, while Obama says he will request another $5 billion over five years.

Court Rejects Troy Davis Appeal, Extends Stay of Execution

In Georgia, a federal appeals court has rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for the death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. Despite rejecting Davis’ appeal Thursday, the court said it would extend Davis’ stay of execution pending a final appeal before the Supreme Court.

Paterson Introduces Gay Marriage Bill

In New York, Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. State Republicans defeated an identical bill in 2007, but today Democrats now also control New York’s state Senate.

Trial Begins for Anti-Transgendered Hate-Crime Murder

And in Colorado, a murder trial has opened that’s believed to be the first ever hate-crime case for the killing of a transgendered person. Allen Andrade is accused of murdering eighteen-year old Justin “Angie” Zapata after arranging a meeting online. The case has boosted calls for the inclusion of transgendered people in hate-crimes statutes on the state and federal level. Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently recognize transgendered people in hate crime laws.

Caterpillar Kills! Local Group Stages Protest to Kick Off Boycott/Divestiture Campaign

Caterpillar Kills

Folks from the Grand Rapids area activist group, Brunch & Revolution, kicked off the local Caterpillar/Motorola boycott and divestiture campaign with a protest in front of a local Caterpillar dealership along US 131 near 76th Street this morning. They held up two large banners, despite the cold morning chill. Hundreds of commuters on their way to work read the message, “Caterpillar Kills!” The second banner provided the web address of End the Occupation Coalition, the US-based group coordinating the national Divestment/Boycott Campaign.

The national campaign calls attention to the Israeli government’s apartheid practices as its Palestinian neighbors are denied food, medical care, the right to pursue livelihoods and the freedom to come and go for normal daily activities. This apartheid policy was savagely evident during Israeli military attacks in December and early January that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead (for the most part regular folks, women and children) and thousands more injured, displaced and homeless. (14 Israelis died; of those 10 were military, four of which were friendly fire.)

Divestment Portfolios Available

Throughout this week, folks involved in the action will be contacting local churches, campus groups, progressive organizations and unions with “Divestment Portfolios,” informational packets with many pages of information on the campaign as well as a CD/PowerPoint presentation that explains Caterpillar’s role in its illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. “Today is the kickoff to our local campaign for Divestment/Boycott of Israel,” says Mike, Brunch and Revolution spokesperson. “We are hoping to get as many groups to sign on to this campaign, so please help us get the word out.”

Why Caterpillar?

The Israeli military routinely uses Caterpillar bulldozers as part of its occupation strategy. Caterpillar Corporation assists the Israeli Defense Forces by supplying them with the D9 Bulldozer, critical to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. A multitude of reports indicate that homes are bulldozed without giving people time to get out of their homes.

“Caterpillar Corporation’s contribution makes possible the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the uprooting of olive trees (a Palestinian economic mainstay) and militarization of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This should be met with the utmost resistance by any nation or person who holds value in the Geneva Conventions and the tenants of international law,” Mike says.

For additional information, visit http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1869

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.

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.