The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has been recalled to Washington following the publication of an article in which McChrystal criticizes several top Obama administration officials. In an interview in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone, McChrystal is described as "disappointed" in his first Oval Office meeting with President Obama, whom he felt was unprepared. McChrystal also says he felt betrayed by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry following the release of cables in which Eikenberry warned about escalating the Afghan war with more troops. McChrystal said of Eikenberry, "Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now, if we fail, they can say 'I told you so.'" In a statement today, McChrystal apologized for his comments, saying the article "reflected poor judgment and should never have happened."
The news comes as nine NATO troops, including four Americans, were killed Monday in a helicopter crash and several violent attacks. At least sixty-two NATO soldiers, including forty-one Americans, have been killed this month. June is on pace to become the deadliest month for the US-led international occupation in the nine-year war.
New figures meanwhile show years of occupation and fighting have left Afghanistan with one of the highest percentages of drug addicts in the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says 800,000 Afghan adults now use opium, heroin and other illicit drugs, a percentage of close to seven percent.
A congressional investigation has affirmed the findings of a Nation magazine report that revealed the US government is indirectly financing warlords and insurgent forces they’re fighting in Afghanistan. Investigative journalist Aram Roston reported the Pentagon’s civilian contractors in Afghanistan have paid insurgent groups to protect US supply routes from attack. Roston discussed his findings on Democracy Now! in November.
Aram Roston: "The security companies reach arrangements with the local Taliban, the local warlords and various insiders to pay them off for protection. It’s very much like an extortion racket and very much like a protection racket, and it amounts to huge amounts of money. Some say ten percent, some say far more than ten percent, of the convoys. Some say that most of the security budgets are going towards these payments to the Taliban and to the tribal leaders and the warlords."
Roston’s story prompted the congressional probe. The military has now opened a criminal investigation into the payoffs.
The website Wikileaks.org has announced it’s retained a legal team to assist a US servicemember who may have leaked video of a US military helicopter gunship’s indiscriminate killings of Iraqi civilians. Army Specialist Bradley Manning was recently detained in Iraq after an acquaintance claimed that Manning had taken responsibility for sending Wikileaks the video along with thousands of classified US government records. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also says his group plans to release documents related to another deadly US attack on Afghan civilians as early as this week, followed by video of the incident later in the summer.
More than a dozen oil companies have gone to court to overturn the Obama administration’s ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Imposed following the BP oil disaster, the lawsuit calls the ban "arbitrary and capricious." On Monday, the judge in the case said he would decide by Wednesday whether to temporarily lift the ban while the case is heard.
The Supreme Court has upheld a controversial anti-terrorism law that makes it a crime to give any form of aid, including training and advice for legal activities, to groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The material support law was first adopted in 1996 but strengthened by the PATRIOT Act in 2001. In a six-to-three decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law doesn’t violate free speech rights. Center for Constitutional Rights senior attorney Shayana Kadidal warned the ruling could open the door to prosecution of even former President Jimmy Carter for conducting election training in Lebanon.
Shayana Kadidal: "President Carter went to Lebanon in 2006 to do election monitoring. And while he was there, he met with representatives of all parties involved in the election, including Hamas [in the Occupied Territories] and Hezbollah, which are on the FTO lists, and told them things like what constitutes a fair election, what the international law standards are, and this kind of thing. Now, under today’s ruling, those things that former President Carter did — all in the interest of promoting nonviolent conflict resolution and involvement in the democratic process by supporters of groups that are on the FTO list — all those things could be serious crimes landing him in prison for fifteen years."
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project. The group provides nonviolent dispute resolution and human rights advocacy training to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and several groups of Tamil Americans who sought to provide humanitarian relief in war-torn areas of Sri Lanka once controlled by the Tamil Tigers. Shayana Kadidal said the decision could likely harm similar reconciliation efforts by US groups.
Shayana Kadidal: "I think we can expect that the material support statute, which was modified, in part, by the PATRIOT Act, will now cast a very broad chill on not only humanitarian aid efforts in crisis zones, in areas that are afflicted by war, sometimes controlled by rebel groups, but that also will cast a really broad chill on journalists and on other humanitarian groups that, like our plaintiffs, were intending to go and talk to parties that have been sort of put on these blacklists and try to get them to turn away from the behavior that ended up putting them on these blacklists in the first place."
The Obama administration is preparing to expand childcare rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. Under the new rules, LGBT workers would be allowed to take medical and family leave to care for the sick or newborn children of their partners. President Obama is scheduled to host LGBT activists tonight at a White House event marking "LGBT Pride Month."
The man arrested for the failed Times Square bombing attempt last month has pleaded guilty to all ten terrorism and weapons charges against him. Appearing in a Manhattan district court, Faisal Shahzad called himself "a Muslim soldier" who was seeking revenge for "the US terrorizing...Muslim people." Shahzad continued, "Americans only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die." Shahzad said Muslim militants will continue attacking the US until it withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan, stops drone attacks, and ends interference in Muslim countries. He’ll be sentenced in October.
The aid groups Oxfam and Save the Children have launched emergency appeals to assist up to ten million people in West Africa at risk of starvation. The groups say Niger and Chad face conditions of the 1984 Ethiopia famine because of a crippling drought.
The Indian government says it will renew its request that the US extradite the former head of the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal industrial gas disaster that left an estimated 15,000 people dead. Warren Anderson is the former chief executive of Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical. Anderson was arrested shortly after the disaster but later fled India. The US has turned down repeated Indian requests for Anderson’s extradition, most recently in 2004.
Students at the University of Puerto Rico have voted to end their two-month strike against massive budget cuts at their school. On Monday, students approved a national assembly vote to back an agreement with administrators reached last week. The deal includes an extension of tuition waivers, the cancellation of a fee that would have drastically raised education costs, a commitment not to arbitrarily punish strike participants, and rejection of school privatization plans. The students also voted to approve another strike for January should the administration renege on its commitments.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says it’s investigating how a Cameroon national with no criminal record was arrested and nearly deported after his American wife wrote a letter asking President Obama to help with his bid for asylum. Immigration agents arrested Hervé Fonkou Takoulo outside of his Manhattan home earlier this month. Takoulo’s wife, Caroline Jamieson, had written Obama a letter in January requesting assistance in her husband’s case. Takoulo was facing an outstanding deportation order after being denied asylum. The couple did not receive a reply to the letter until the agents showed up to arrest Takoulo. He was released from an immigration jail last week following inquiries from the New York Times. Takoulo still faces deportation. Immigration officials say they’re probing how government standards of not using letters requesting help to fuel arrests and not arresting deportable immigrants without criminal records were violated.
And residents of Fremont, Nebraska have approved a measure to crack down on undocumented immigrants. The measure calls for barring landlords from renting to undocumented workers and forcing city businesses to use a federal database to ensure no undocumented immigrants are being employed. A court challenge is expected.