The Obama administration announced Sunday citizens of fourteen countries will be subjected to intense screening at airports worldwide, including full body pat-down and physical inspection of property. The list of countries targeted are Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. All passengers flying from these countries will also face increased inspection. Nawar Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee criticized the new rules. He said, “This is extreme and very dangerous. All of a sudden people are labeled as being related to terrorism just because of the nation they are from.” Some advocates of racial profiling have suggested even more extreme measures.
Retired Air Force General Tom McInerney on Fox News: "We have got to go to very, very strict screening, and we have to use profiling. And I mean be very serious and harsh about the profiling. If you are an eighteen- to twenty-eight-year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip-searched. And if we don’t do that, there’s a very high probability we’re going to lose an airliner."
A federal judge in Washington, DC has thrown out all charges against the five Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians. Judge Ricardo Urbina handed down his ruling late in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve. Urbina accused the Justice Department of building its case on sworn statements that the guards had given under a promise of immunity. The decision was met by outrage in Iraq. Iraqi government spokesperson Ali Al-Dabbagh said Iraq would support a civil lawsuit filed in US courts by victims of the shooting.
Ali Al-Dabbagh: “The government is not part of this case, but the victims and the families of the victims who were wounded and harmed are the ones who will file the case. The government will facilitate a lawsuit from Iraqi citizens to sue the guards and the company for the damage they caused and for committing this crime."
In other Blackwater news, CNN is reporting two contractors from the company were among the seven Americans killed Wednesday in a suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan. A captain in the Jordanian intelligence service was also killed in the blast. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA has worked closely with the Jordanian spy agency, the General Intelligence Department.
France and Japan have joined the United States and Britain in closing their embassies in Yemen following reported threats from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US embassy was closed on Sunday one day after US General David Petraeus traveled to Yemen to meet President Ali Abdullah Saleh to discuss strengthening military ties. Over the weekend, President Obama linked al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to the failed Christmas Day airline bombing plot. The US and Britain have also announced plans to fund a special counterterrorism police unit in Yemen. On Sunday, when asked whether more US military action was possible in Yemen, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said that was a possibility.
John Brennan: "There are indications that al-Qaeda is planning an attack in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. I spoke with our ambassador down there, Ambassador Seche, this morning, as well as last night. Both the US and the British embassies have been closed to give the Yemeni government an opportunity to thwart that threat and the plans that are afoot right now."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been dealt a setback after the Afghan parliament rejected two-thirds of his proposed cabinet picks, including his nominees to head the defense, interior and finance departments. Analysts said the vote offered clear evidence of Karzai’s eroding political support in the wake of last year’s disputed election. Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy, said Afghanistan remains in political crisis.
Haroun Mir: “Only those ministers who have the backing of the international community were able to win enough confidence vote. And it means that those who did not have the support of the international community were unable. So, there is, in some ways, an invisible hand in the Afghan parliament that is trying to influence the outcome."
In other news from Afghanistan, hundreds of people, mostly students, protested in Kabul and in the province of Nangarhar earlier today against the US killing of civilians. Another protest against civilian deaths was held on December 30. Over the past ten days, Afghan civilians have been killed in a number of attacks. Four civilians were killed during an operation of NATO forces in Baghlan. Eleven Afghans, including eight schoolchildren, were killed in eastern Kunar, and thirteen more Afghans died in an air raid in Laghman province. The killing of the schoolchildren has sparked the most outrage. According to the Times of London, US-led troops dragged innocent children from their beds and shot them during a night raid on December 27. Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. The headmaster of the local school said seven of the children were handcuffed and then executed. A preliminary investigation by the United Nations determined that students were killed in the raid. Kai Eide, who heads the United Nations in Kabul, said the UN remained concerned about nighttime raids by coalition troops "given that they often result in lethal outcomes for civilians."
In Pakistan, the death toll from a suicide bombing at a volleyball match on Friday has risen to 101. It was one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan in recent years.
The Washington Post reports the past decade was the worst for the US economy in modern times. There has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Middle-income households made less in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999. And the net worth of American households has also declined when adjusted for inflation. This compares with sharp gains in every previous decade since data were initially collected in the 1950s. Wall Street also registered its first-ever negative decade on a total return basis. Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s Equity Research, said the benchmark S&P 500 is down about ten percent over the last ten years.
Sam Stovall: "It’s a dismal decade because, whether you go back to 1900, this is the first decade in which the S&P 500 lost money when you include dividends reinvested. Even in the 1930s, we were able to eke out a ten percent total return, because we had dividend yields that ranged anywhere from five to ten percent during that ten-year period.”
In other economic news, the New York Times reports about six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income. About one in fifty Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food stamp card.
In news from Latin America, Peru’s supreme court has upheld the twenty-five-year jail sentence handed to Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former president. Fujimori was convicted of directing the killings of twenty-five people and overseeing a death squad as part of a "dirty war" in the early 1990s. Fujimori is said to be the first democratically elected Latin American leader to be found guilty of human rights abuses in his own country. Gisela Ortiz Perea praised the court’s ruling. In 1992 her brother was kidnapped and assassinated by a pro-government death squad.
Gisela Ortiz Perea: “We celebrate this sentence that ends a long path, almost eighteen years of a fight for truth and for justice. For us, this has been a very difficult fight that has exposed us emotionally and publicly. This has taken a huge emotional toll for each one of us; nonetheless, we are satisfied, because at the end of this long path we finally had justice, and justice was made on the principal person responsible for the deaths of our loved ones."
In Denmark, a Somali man has been charged with two counts of attempted murder after breaking into the home of a Danish artist whose Prophet Muhammad cartoon outraged the Muslim world three years ago. Authorities say the Somali man broke into the house late Friday armed with an ax and a knife. The seventy-four-year-old cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was not injured in the attack. When he heard someone trying to break into his home, he pressed an alarm and fled to a specially made safe room. His five-year-old granddaughter was also in the house at the time.
In Indiana, a former Marine has confessed to killing a professor at Indiana University named Don Belton. Belton taught English at the school and was the editor of the book Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream. Northwestern University Professor John Keene said, “Belton was a literary path blazer and one of the important black gay writers to emerge in the 1980s.” Twenty-five-year-old Michael Griffin has been charged with murder in the killing. Griffin told police he stabbed Belton because the professor had sexually assaulted him. But according to court documents, a journal found at Belton’s house contained a note saying that he is "very happy that an individual by the name of Michael has come into his life."
The United States has officially lifted a twenty-two-year ban on allowing anyone with HIV or AIDS from entering the country. The new rules go into effect today. The US had been one of just twelve nations that banned visitors with HIV or AIDS.
The US Secret Service is investigating an effigy of President Obama found hanging from a building in Plains, Georgia, the hometown of former President Jimmy Carter. Video footage shows a large black doll hanging from a building by a noose. The doll was hung in front of a red, white and blue sign that reads: "Plains, Georgia. Home of Jimmy Carter, our 39th President."
Participants of the Gaza Freedom March have issued a declaration calling for a global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. The so-called Cairo Declaration was written by a committee led by the South African delegation. Organizers of the march had originally planned for roughly 1,400 activists from forty-three countries to cross from Egypt into Gaza to break Israel’s siege. But the march plans were altered when the Egyptian government blocked most of the marchers from crossing the border.