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The nation’s top two military leaders have voiced support for the first time for repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell," the military policy barring gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen endorsed President Obama’s call for the repeal during his State of the Union address last week. But in line with Obama’s refusal to issue an executive order, Gates said Congress would need to approve the repeal.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it. We received our orders from the Commander-in-Chief, and we are moving out accordingly. However, we can also take this process only so far, as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress."
In his comments, Admiral Mullen became the first sitting chair of the Joint Chiefs to support repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell," saying, "allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do."
In Haiti, medical teams have launched a new campaign to vaccinate Haitian children, citing the potential for disease outbreaks for those crowded in makeshift camps around the capital. According to the Washington Post, US officials now report food aid has reached at least one million people — half the estimated number of people in need. The Toussaint Louverture Boulevard camp has taken in an estimated 12,000 people, but international food trucks haven’t stopped there once. At least 70,000 homeless families have received temporary shelter materials, but another 170,000 families haven’t received them. Daily protests against a lack of aid and recovery effort continued Tuesday when scores of Haitians gathered outside the police station in Port-au-Prince. One protester called on the Haitian government to deliver more assistance.
Protester: "We lost our jobs in 2004, 2007. We look for jobs, but there’s nothing. The people in the streets have nothing, no water for drinking, no house. There are some children orphaned, but no help also. Today I come here to ask the Préval government to pay us."
In other news from Haiti, a group of detained US missionaries appeared before a Haitian judge Tuesday, following their arrest for trying to leave the country with a busload of children. Child welfare groups have expressed outrage over the group’s attempt, saying some of the children had parents who survived the January 12 earthquake. The missionaries say they were only trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. Haitian officials have suggested the missionaries could face trial in the United States if Haiti’s devastated court system is unable to handle their case.
In Pakistan, a roadside bombing earlier today has killed an estimated ten people, including three US soldiers. The attack occurred in Lower Dir, where Pakistani troops have recently battled Taliban militants. The killings forced the Pentagon to make a rare admission of US troops operating inside Pakistan. The US military says the soldiers were en route to inspect a site for a development project. More than fifty people were injured in the attack, many of them children at a nearby school.
The attack came hours after an estimated seventeen people were killed in a US drone attack inside Pakistan. The attack struck a village in the North Waziristan tribal region. Many others were reportedly wounded.
In Iraq, at least twenty people have been killed in a bombing in Karbala earlier today. More than 100 people were wounded in the attack. It was the latest in several attacks targeting Shiite pilgrims this week. On Monday, more than forty pilgrims on their way to Karbala were killed in northeast Baghdad.
In Britain, a former British minister said cabinet members under former Prime Minister Tony Blair were misled into backing the invasion of Iraq in 2003. On Tuesday, former cabinet member Clare Short testified Blair’s attorney general had hidden his doubts about the war’s legality. She also criticized Blair’s stated reasons for launching the invasion.
Clare Short: "I thought, this is the Attorney General coming just in the teeth of war to the cabinet, it must be right. And I think he was misleading us. Tony Blair’s account of the need to act urgently, somehow, because of September the 11th, I think doesn’t stack up to any scrutiny whatsoever. We’ve made Iraq more dangerous, as well as causing enormous suffering."
Short initially backed the invasion but resigned soon after it was launched.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the US and Russia have agreed in principle on the first nuclear arms reduction treaty in nearly two decades. The deal would reduce the amount of deployed nuclear warheads and the missiles and bombers capable of delivering them. The Arms Control Association says the agreement marks the first to set firm limits on warhead reduction, rather than goals.
Iran is signaling interest in reviving a proposal to send enriched uranium abroad in return for nuclear fuel to power a reactor for medical use. Iran had appeared to reject the proposal late last year. But on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran has "no problem" with the plan. His comments came as Iranian officials criticized new US plans to expand its land- and sea-based missile system in the Persian Gulf, calling the move an excuse to widen US dominance of the Middle East. Ahmadinejad also addressed the plight of three American hikers jailed after mistakenly crossing over from Iraq, saying they could be swapped for Iranian prisoners held by the United States.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "We do not like to have anyone in jail. Some discussions are going on to swap the three with jailed Iranians in America. They entered illegally across our borders, and their crime is clear. But those Iranians who are in America’s jail have no clear crime."
Iran meanwhile has also announced plans to hang nine other people arrested in the anti-government protests following disputed elections last June. Two people arrested during the protests were hanged last week.
At The Hague, an appeals judge has ordered the International Criminal Court to review its omission of genocide charges in the arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. A panel of judges will now have to rule whether to include genocide in the list of charges against Bashir.
In Italy, peace activists continue protests against the expansion of the US military base in Vicenza. New video footage shows protesters entering the construction area at the Dal Molin site and hanging rainbow flags from cranes and other equipment. The action comes near the two-year anniversary of a march attended by tens of thousands of people to oppose US plans to double the Vicenza base.
The bailed-out insurance giant AIG has announced plans to hand out an estimated $100 million in bonuses today. The firm says the payments are the last in a retention program at its financial products division, whose practices helped bring the firm near collapse before its rescue by the largest government bailout in history.
The Justice Department has launched a probe into the FBI’s killing of a Detroit-area Muslim imam last year. The imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, headed a Sunni Muslim group called the Ummah. He was shot dead during an FBI raid shortly after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit federal crimes. An autopsy report released this week shows Abdullah died from twenty-one gunshot wounds and was found with his wrists handcuffed. At least one of the gunshot wounds entered through Abdullah’s back.
And nominations have been announced for the eighty-second annual Academy Awards. The antiwar comedy In the Loop received a nomination for best adapted screenplay. In the documentary category, three films featured on Democracy Now! in the past year received nods. Our former neighbors at the DCTV firehouse, Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill were nominated in the best documentary short subject category for their film China’s Unnatural Disaster, which follows grieving parents after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Films up for best documentary include Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, which chronicles media activism in Burma and the extraordinary risks citizen journalists take to get information out of the country. And also nominated for best documentary is The Most Dangerous Man in America, which tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon Papers helped end the the Vietnam War.
Daniel Ellsberg: "It was the evening of October 1st, 1969, when I first smuggled several hundred pages of top-secret documents out of my safe at the RAND Corporation. The study contained forty-seven volumes, 7,000 pages. My plan was to Xerox the study and reveal the secret history of the Vietnam War to the American people."