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The US military is being accused of another deadly attack on innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Afghan officials say three family members were killed and another two wounded when US troops raided their home in the village of Kundi, near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The soldiers fatally shot the family’s father and mother and a male relative. A four-year-old boy was bitten by a US military attack dog.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce his final cabinet picks today. Aides say Obama has selected former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as US trade representative and Congress member Hilda Solis of California as Labor Secretary. Kirk and Solis have been on different sides of the trade debate. Solis has been a leading congressional voice for labor rights. In Congress, she is a key backer of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove barriers to unionizing workers.
Obama has also reportedly chosen Admiral Dennis Blair for the nation’s top intelligence job. As Director of National Intelligence, Blair would oversee the US government’s sixteen intelligence agencies. Blair’s selection has come under controversy mainly over his role in backing the Indonesian occupation of East Timor during the 1990s. Blair provided key support to the Indonesian military while commanding US military forces in the Pacific. In a letter, the East Timor and Indonesian Action Network said, “Blair sought the quickest possible restoration of military assistance, despite Indonesia’s highly destructive exit and the failure, which continues to this day, to prosecute the senior officials who oversaw the violence. This lack of concern for human rights shows that he is unlikely to be a champion of reform.”
In other transition news, Obama has also settled on two scientific advisers known for backing vigorous research and curbing emissions of greenhouse gases. Harvard physicist John Holdren will be appointed Obama’s science adviser. He has said he prefers the term “global disruption” over “global warming.” While Oregon State University Professor Jane Lubchenco will head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Obama, meanwhile, addressed reporters in Chicago Thursday. On the economy, Obama said his inauguration would herald a new round of financial regulation.
President-elect Obama: "We have been asleep at the switch, not just some of the regulatory agencies, but some of the congressional committees that might have been taking a look at this stuff. We have not been as aggressive, and we’ve had a White House that started with the premise that deregulation was always good. And so, what I said during the campaign, I meant. We are going to have to greatly strengthen our regulatory apparatus and update it from what worked for a twentieth century financial system so that it works in a twenty-first century financial system."
Obama went on to defend his controversial decision to select the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage minister Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama said while he disagrees with Warren’s views on gay rights and abortion, his appearance would help reflect the diversity of US opinion.
The Pentagon has announced it’s preparing for an anticipated order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison after Obama takes office next month. Officials have begun drawing up contingency plans, should Obama uphold his campaign promise to close the prison. Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “This is an important first step toward turning the page on eight years of shameful policies that allowed torture and violations of domestic and international law.”
A UN court has sentenced an alleged mastermind of the Rwandan genocide to life in prison. A tribunal judge read the verdict against Protais Zigiranyirazo on Thursday.
Unidentified UN Judge: “The chamber sentences you, Protais Zigiranyirazo, to twenty years imprisonment in relation to the conviction for genocide on Kesho Hill, to twenty years imprisonment in relation to the conviction for genocide for your activities in relation to the Kiyovo roadblock, and fifteen years imprisonment in relation to the conviction for extermination at Kesho Hill.”
The UN court on Rwanda is wrapping up its prosecutions this month. It will convene until 2010 to hear all appeals.
At the United Nations, the General Assembly has approved a historic measure supporting gay rights worldwide. On Thursday, sixty-six countries voted to approve a declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality and guaranteeing equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. Most of the support came from Europe and Latin America. The Bush administration refused to support the measure, joining Russia, China, the Vatican and several Arab states. Maxime Verhagen, the Netherlands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, criticized the US objection.
Maxime Verhagen: "What we say is that Universal Declaration of Human Rights means that they have also to be applied for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people. And we are not saying that people should behave like certain people behave. We don’t say that we should apply a certain lifestyle. What we say is you don’t use this as an excuse to discriminate against them, to violate their human rights or to penalize them. So I hope that also the US will be the next time one of the countries who will support this statement."
The Bush administration says it opposed the measure, because it could have been interpreted to override state bans on gay marriage. The declaration is the first on gay rights to be read in the General Assembly.
A Palestinian American professor who became the focus of anti-Obama attacks during the presidential campaign is warning against expecting major changes from Obama’s White House. Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi’s personal ties to Obama were cited by the McCain campaign in a widely ridiculed campaign ploy. Speaking in Egypt, Khalidi said he doesn’t think Obama will reverse US policy in the Middle East.
Rashid Khalidi: "The lethal combination of the fear of appearing soft on terrorism, which has sort of replaced the fear of being soft on communism in American public discourse, together with the unparalleled clout of the American military-industrial complex may unfortunately help to prolong the agony brought on by the current heavy American footprint in the Middle East, whatever intentions President Obama may have."
Khalidi and Obama knew each other while teaching at the University of Chicago in the 1990s.
Cuban President Raul Castro has offered the US an unprecedented deal to exchange imprisoned Cuban dissidents in return for five Cubans jailed in the United States. The “Cuban Five” are serving prison terms of up to twenty-five years for allegedly spying for the Cuban government. The Cuban government maintains they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor right-wing exile groups that have organized violent attacks on Cuba. Speaking in Brazil, Castro also renewed his calls for talks with the incoming Obama White House.
In Minnesota, the latest tally in the recount of the deadlocked Senate race has incumbent Norm Coleman ahead by five votes over challenger Al Franken. Election officials say they’re unlikely to finish counting before the end of the year. The State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Franken’s effort to count more than 1,000 absentee ballots.
Here in New York, a student sit-in at New School University is winding down after school officials agreed to several demands. The students have been occupying a school dining hall since Wednesday, calling for the resignation of New School President Bob Kerrey and a greater voice on campus. The student protesters’ website says school officials have agreed not to press charges, implement a socially responsible investing committee and increase the role of student voices in school decisions.
New School student Dave Shukla: "It is, by far, one of the most vicious corporate campaigns to turn what has been a progressive and outstanding academic institution into a money-making machine. As a result, not only do we not have a library, we don’t have any student space, any common space to study. It’s finals week. The only space we have is a cafe and a cafeteria. And in his infinite wisdom, after firing for the fifth time in eight years the provost, the chief academic officer at the New School, Bob Kerrey appointed himself to be the provost as well as the president."
Vice President Dick Cheney is claiming he should have the sole authority to decide which of his records, if any, are handed over to the National Archives when he leaves office. The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is suing Cheney to ensure his records become public. The 1978 Presidential Records Act requires the President and Vice President to transfer their records upon leaving office. In a court filing, Cheney’s lawyers say he will choose which of his records are personal and which pertain to his vice-presidential duties.
In Chicago, the community activist and journalist Beauty Turner has died. She was fifty-one years old. Turner was a leading advocate for Chicago public housing residents and campaigner against police brutality.
And Mark Felt, the secret source known as “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon, has died at the age of ninety-five. As the number two man at the FBI, Felt helped reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover a series of revelations that brought down the Nixon government. He publicly admitted his role as “Deep Throat” in 2005.