The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran’s new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program. The talks are expected to start in early October. If successful, this would be the first formal, substantive talks between the United States and Iran since the Iranian Revolution thirty years ago. Iran last week handed over a package of proposals to the world powers in which Tehran said it was willing to discuss global nuclear disarmament as well as other international issues in wide-ranging talks. But the document did not mention Iran’s own nuclear program, which Iran maintains is only for civil energy uses. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that Iran’s nuclear program will be discussed at the talks.
Robert Gibbs: "Certainly their willingness to talk about it is welcome. I’ll tell you this: we’re not talking for talking’s sake. This may not have been a topic that they wanted to be brought up, but I can assure you it’s a topic that we’ll bring up and the P5-plus-1 will bring up. The Iranians have responsibilities to the international community to walk away from their illicit nuclear weapons program. That’s what the focus from our side will be on in these talks. And that’s our goal."
A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit filed by four former Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib against the military contractor CACI International. The men had accused the firm’s employees of taking part in the torture and abuse of prisoners. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that CACI should be immune from prosecution because the company’s employees were under US military authority. The dissenting opinion was written by Judge Merrick Garland. He argued that there is no judicial precedent that would prohibit the prisoners from suing government contractors. Garland wrote, "The plaintiffs in these cases allege that they were beaten, electrocuted, raped, subjected to attacks by dogs and otherwise abused by private contractors. At the current stage of the litigation we must accept these allegations as true."
The top commander of US forces in Afghanistan has admitted he sees no signs of a major al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. Speaking on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, "I do not see indications of a large al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now.” But McChrystal says al-Qaeda still maintains close links to Afghan-based insurgents. He is expected soon to ask President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan.
More accusations have been aired about Afghanistan’s recent presidential election. Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claims incumbent president Hamid Karzai used state resources to engineer the stealing of the August 20 presidential election. Abdullah says Karzai bribed tribal elders between $4,000 and $8,000 each to throw the election to Karzai.
In other news from Afghanistan, the New York Times reports the Obama administration plans to issue new guidelines aimed at giving hundreds of prisoners in Afghanistan more ability to challenge their custody. However, the prisoners will not be given access to attorneys. Instead, the Pentagon plans to assign a US military official to each prisoner. The official could help gather witnesses and evidence, including classified material, on behalf of the prisoners to challenge their detention in proceedings before a military-appointed review board.
Tens of thousands of right-wing activists gathered in Washington Saturday to condemn President Obama’s plan to reform healthcare. Many protesters praised Republican Congressman Joe Wilson for calling the President a liar during his speech to Congress last night.
Protesters: “You lie! You lie! You lie!...”
Organizers had projected as many as two million protesters would attend, but the DC Fire Department put the final tally at approximately 60,000 to 70,000. Organizers included the Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet and FreedomWorks, a Washington-based organization headed by former House majority leader Richard Armey of Texas. The march was also heavily publicized by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis on Saturday, 15,000 supporters of President Obama filled the Target Center to hear Obama speak.
President Obama: "If we do nothing, your premiums will continue to rise faster than your wages. If we do nothing, more businesses will close down. Fewer will face — fewer will be able to open in the first place. If we do nothing, we will eventually spend more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. That’s not an option for the United States of America. So, Minnesota, I may not be the first President to take up the cause of healthcare reform, but I am determined to be the last. We are going to get it done this year."
The State Department has revoked the visas of more than a dozen members of the coup government in Honduras, including the country’s installed president, Roberto Micheletti, and fourteen members of the Honduran Supreme Court. The move comes more than two months after a military coup ousted the democratically elected Manuel Zelaya.
Here in this country, six groups have filed a federal lawsuit after being denied permits to protest during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh later this month. The suit was filed against the city, the Secret Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Attorney Witold Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “What they’re essentially doing is refusing permits for any demonstration in downtown Pittsburgh, and that’s unprecedented.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will scrutinize seventy-nine applications for mountaintop coal-mine permits in Appalachia to guard against damage to water supplies. The move was praised by environmental groups and critics of mountaintop removal. Michael Brune of Rainforest Action Network said, “By recognizing the irreversible destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, the EPA has taken an important stand in support of the people and ecosystems of Appalachia. The agency seems to recognize that there is no environmentally safe way to demolish mountains.”
In Michigan, police have arrested a thirty-three-year-old man named Harlan Drake on murder charges for allegedly killing two men Friday, including a longtime anti-abortion activist. The activist, James Pouillon, was shot to death while staging a protest in front of the Owosso High School. President Obama and several pro-choice groups condemned the killing.
Six antiwar activists were arrested at a mall in Philadelphia on Saturday during a protest to shut down a video arcade run by the military that is also used as a recruiting center. [Police also arrested OpEdNews.com reporter Cheryl Biren while she was photographing the protest.] The Army Experience Center is a high-tech arcade that houses 80 video gaming stations and battle simulations.
More than fifty nations gathered in Mexico last week to take part in the sixty-second annual peace and development conference organized by the United Nations. Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, whose city was destroyed by a nuclear bomb in 1945, predicted an end to nuclear weapons by 2020.
Tadatoshi Akiba: "I firmly believe, I am confident, and I know that we can abolish nuclear weapons by 2020. It’s a gigantic task. It is a once-in-a-century event. Therefore, when that happens in 2020, that calls for a gigantic celebration, and I cannot think anything better than holding an Olympic game, an Olympic game in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to celebrate the triumph of the people of the world, to celebrate a nuclear-free world."
And in Cuba, tens of thousands lined up Sunday to pay their respects to Juan Almeida, a hero of the country’s 1959 revolution. Almeida died on Friday at the age of eighty-two. Almeida was at the side of Fidel and Raul Castro from the earliest days of the revolution and was the only black commander in the leadership.