The massive BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the Louisiana coastline as fears grow of a worse disaster than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Five thousand barrels of oil a day continue to spew into the water beneath the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and sank last week. At the White House, President Obama said BP is ultimately responsible for funding the response and cleanup operations, but vowed to increase federal involvement.
President Obama: "I’ve been receiving frequent briefings from members of my cabinet and White House staff, including an update last night on the additional breach and another update this morning. And while BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense, to address the incident."
Thousands of people turned out for a protest on Wall Street Thursday to denounce the taxpayer-funded bailout and the role of large financial firms in the nation’s economic crisis. A coalition of union and community groups organized the march as the Senate opened debate on a measure to overhaul financial regulation.
National People’s Action President George Goehl: "We want to send a clear message to them [Congress]: which side are you on? Are you going to side with Wall Street and the bankers, the same bankers that got us in this mess? Or are you going to do what we would think would be the obvious thing and side with the American people?"
Before the march, dozens of protesters crowded the lobbies of buildings housing JPMorgan Chase as well as Wells Fargo and Wachovia.
Federal prosecutors have reportedly opened a criminal investigation into the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. The firm is under scrutiny for marketing mortgage securities to clients while simultaneously betting the securities would fail. The US attorney’s office in Manhattan is said to be carrying out the probe. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit against Goldman this month and is said to have referred its case to federal prosecutors.
Opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law is growing with ongoing protests and the first federal lawsuits seeking its reversal. The law forces police officers to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. Opponents call it the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country and a license for racial profiling. On Thursday, hundreds of people rallied against the law at a protest outside the state Capitol in Phoenix. The demonstrators included the veteran labor activist Dolores Huerta and the pop musician Shakira. Huerta said the law is galvanizing the immigrant rights movement.
Dolores Huerta:"I think this is an opportunity for all of us here that we’re going to get engaged, and we are going to change the politics of the state of Arizona. We cannot let the state continue to be the black sheep of all of the states in the United States of America, that continues to pass these laws that are racist."
Another protest was held in Chicago, where dozens of people rallied outside a Major League Baseball game featuring the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks. A small plane displaying a banner criticizing the immigration law circled above the stadium. Back in Arizona, fifteen-year Tucson police veteran Martin Escobar filed suit against the law, saying it would impede investigations and violate constitutional rights. Escobar’s suit was followed by a separate challenge from the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. The group is seeking an injunction preventing the law’s enforcement. Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said his group will also file suit.
Thomas Saenz: "A lawsuit will be filed in federal court at some time, time to ensure that the law will never be implemented, so based upon what the implementation date ends up being, ninety days from when the legislative session closes. We will go into court. We will file a complaint. And we’ll be seeking to enjoin and prevent the law from ever being implemented."
The sheriff for Arizona’s Pima County, meanwhile, has announced he’ll refuse to enforce the new law. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik called the law "disgusting," "racist" and "stupid."
A new Pentagon report says violence in Afghanistan is up nearly 90 percent from this time last year. Roadside bomb attacks were up 240 percent over the same period. Support for Afghan insurgents increased from thirty-three Afghan districts to forty-eight as of last month.
The US-led NATO force, meanwhile, has killed the relative of an Afghan lawmaker in an overnight raid. The lawmaker, Safia Siddiqi, says soldiers broke into her home in the middle of the night without warning. The victim was carrying a gun thinking the intruders were thieves. France, meanwhile, has admitted to killing four Afghan civilians in an attack earlier this month. The French military says the victims were accidentally killed when its forces fired missiles at Afghan militants.
In other news from Afghanistan, the United Nations has closed its mission in Kandahar ahead of a major US-led offensive there. The NATO force is expected to launch its largest attack of the nearly nine-year war around Kandahar in the coming months.
At Guantánamo Bay, a Canadian prisoner boycotted his evidentiary hearing Thursday after refusing to wear blacked-out goggles and sound-deafening earmuffs while transported from his cell. The hearing is being held to weigh Omar Khadr’s claims he was tortured into falsely confessing to killing a US soldier in Afghanistan. Khadr was fifteen years old when US troops imprisoned him in 2002. He says US military guards beat him and threatened him with rape after he arrived at Guantánamo that same year. Defense attorney Barry Coburn said Khadr is still being mistreated.
Barry Coburn: "We are just extremely, extremely concerned about what Mr. Khadr is suffering through right now. I think it was probably obvious to everyone in the courtroom that he appeared to be in extreme pain and I think even was crying at one point. So, I mean, the notion of putting kind of tight, blacked-out goggles on a person in this sort of physical condition is something, without necessarily putting a particular label on it, is something that I find extremely difficult to understand."
Khadr later attended the afternoon session, where he occasionally broke into tears. He is set to be tried later this year in the first military tribunal of the Obama White House.
Back in the United States, the House has approved a measure that would allow a referendum on Puerto Rico’s political future. The proposal would allow for a two-step vote in which Puerto Ricans would first vote on whether they wish to maintain the island’s current status as a US commonwealth or change direction. If the latter choice prevails, Puerto Rico could then hold a second vote presenting four options: statehood, independence, the current status or sovereignty linked to the United States. The measure now goes to the Senate.
And four prisoners convicted in last year’s controversial Holy Land Foundation terror trial have been moved to secretive prison units known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs. The units are designed to severely restrict prisoner communication with family members, the media and the outside world. The four were convicted on charges of supporting the Palestinian group Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, once the nation’s largest Muslim charity. They were never accused of supporting violence and were convicted for funding charities that aided needy Palestinians. The US State Department had also funded the same groups. The government’s case relied on Israeli intelligence as well as disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by the FBI over a span of fifteen years.