Justice Souter to Retire from Supreme Court
Justice David Souter is reportedly planning on retiring at the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June. Souter’s departure would grant President Obama his first opportunity to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court bench. Souter was appointed by President George H.W. Bush but ended up regularly voting with the court’s liberal members.
3 US Troops Killed in Iraq
In Iraq, three US troops have been killed in clashes near Baghdad. At least eighteen US soldiers died in April, making it the deadliest month for the US military this year.
Britain Ends Combat Operations in Iraq
In other Iraq news, British troops have formally ended combat operations after a more than six-year occupation. On Thursday, British forces handed control of Basra province to the US military. Britain says it will withdraw most of its 3,700 troops by July, leaving about 400 behind to train Iraqi forces.
Marri Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge
The only so-called "enemy combatant" jailed in the US has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaeda. Ali al-Marri has been held in isolation without trial at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. The Obama administration charged him in February to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. On Thursday, al-Marri pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge carrying a maximum fifteen-year sentence. He could serve half that if he’s given credit for his seven-and-a-half-year imprisonment. As part of the agreement, al-Marri admitted to attending militant training camps and traveling to the US under the direction of al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Gates Hints at Continued Indefinite Jailing of Gitmo Prisoners
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated up to 100 foreign prisoners could end up jailed without trial in the US once the Guantanamo Bay prison is closed. Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates said, "What do we do with the fifty to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?" Gates said he’s requested some $50 million in supplemental funding in case the Obama administration decides to quickly build a new jail.
61 Arrested Protesting Torture Outside White House
Gates’s comments came as sixty-one protesters were arrested outside the White House Thursday to call for the closure of Guantanamo and the prosecution of Bush administration officials who authorized torture there. The arrests followed a march of more than 150 people. Dozens wore black hoods and orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by Guantanamo prisoners. The protest was organized by Witness Against Torture and Amnesty International.
Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy Protection
The auto giant Chrysler has filed for federal bankruptcy protection under a government-brokered deal. Chrysler hopes to form a new company that would be owned by the US government, the Italian auto giant Fiat, and the company’s workers. On Thursday, President Obama said the bankruptcy filing would ensure Chrysler’s continued operation.
President Obama: "No one should be confused about what a bankruptcy process means. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather one more step on a clearly charted path to Chrysler’s revival. Because of the fact that the UAW and many of the banks, the biggest stakeholders in this whole process, have already aligned, have already agreed, this process will be quick."
Obama also criticized the role of some hedge funds, who he said pushed Chrysler into bankruptcy.
Senate Defeats Measure to Aid Homeowners
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has defeated a proposal that would have rescued hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure. A dozen Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure, which would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners. President Obama had publicly supported the proposal but refused to actively lobby for its approval.
House Backs Credit Card Regulation
Meanwhile, the House has approved a measure that would impose tighter regulation on the credit card industry. The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights would limit practices including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and charging interest on paid-off debt.
House Broadens Hate Crime Laws
The House has also passed a measure expanding the scope of federal hate crime laws. The bill would broaden the definition of a hate crime to include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity and mental or physical disability. It now goes to the Senate.
Maine, New Hampshire Senates Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage
In Maine, the state Senate has voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now goes to the Maine House, where it’s expected to pass next week. Democratic Governor John Baldacci formerly opposed gay marriage but isn’t expected to issue a veto. Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s state Senate has also voted to legalize gay marriage. The measure now returns to the House, which has already approved a slightly different bill. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, has opposed same-sex marriage but hasn’t indicated whether he’ll veto the measure.
US Rules Out Closing Border with Mexico in Flu Crisis
Mexican health officials have raised their count of confirmed swine flu cases but say the number appears to be stabilizing. Three hundred people have contracted swine flu in Mexico, while another twelve people have died. The Obama administration is meanwhile rejecting calls to close the US border with Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed the issue Thursday in Washington.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "Closing the entire borders would have no benefit at this point, because the virus is already present in the United States. The comparison is clear: it’s like closing the barn door well after the horse has left."
There are more than 100 confirmed swine flu cases in the US, with one death so far. The White House has also announced a federal agent who recently traveled with President Obama contracted swine flu last month. The agent has since recovered and is back at work. The White House says he did not come within sufficient range of President Obama to expose him to possible infection.
Group: Don't Scapegoat Mexicans in Swine Flu Coverage
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, meanwhile, is urging media outlets not to scapegoat Mexican immigrants in coverage of the swine flu crisis. In a statement, the group said, "The temptation…will be to link Mexican immigrants with the spread of the disease to the United States. The consequence…will be even more anger — and perhaps even more violence — against a community no more responsible for the spread of this ailment than U.S. tourists returning from vacations."
Iraq War Resister Jailed for 1 Year
A US Army soldier has been sentenced to a year in prison for fleeing to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq. Cliff Cornell spent four years living on a British Columbia island before the Canadian government denied his asylum request. He was jailed after re-entering the US in February despite announcing plans to voluntarily return to his unit.
Informant: FBI Spied on Muslim Gym Members
In California, a former informant has revealed FBI agents routinely monitored local Orange County gyms to gather intelligence on members of local mosques. Craig Monteilh said he posed as a Muslim convert to lure mosque members to work out with him at the gyms. FBI agents would then press him to obtain information on his workout partners in the hopes of one day pressuring them to become informants. The disclosure is the latest in a series of exposed government surveillance efforts on California’s Muslim communities.
UN: International Pledges Yet to Reach Gaza
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a top UN relief official says the Gaza Strip has yet to receive any of the $4.5 billion in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors. John Ging, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, says Israeli restrictions on goods and the US-led boycott of Hamas have prevented basic goods from reaching Gaza. Ging said, "Today the money is out there in pledges, and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives, and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel."
Report Finds Scores of Abuses by Mexican Military
In Mexico, the Mexican military is being accused of enjoying virtual impunity to commit human rights abuses in the fight against the country’s drug cartels. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the Mexican armed forces have committed rape, murder, torture and other abuses against indigenous women, environmentalists and other victims with no link to the drug war. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the crimes have routinely gone unpunished.
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth: "The legal door is open. It’s now important for the politicians to walk through and to end the impunity that has been so disastrous for efforts to prevent the military from committing abuses. The rise in abuses, the rise at least in complaints of abuse that we’ve seen over last two years, is in part a function of greater military involvement in law enforcement."
May Day Protests Held Worldwide
And today is May Day, the annual celebration of workers’ rights. Rallies are being held across the United States and around the world. As in years past, dozens of US demonstrations will also focus on immigration rights. At least seven marches have been organized in Los Angeles, while thousands are expected to converge on New York’s Union Square.