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Obama Taps Petraeus as Afghan Commander After Firing McChrystal

President Obama has fired Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal after McChrystal and his aides made disparaging remarks about top administration officials in an article published this week. Obama announced the firing shortly after meeting with McChrystal at the White House.

President Obama: "As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system, and it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."

Obama has named General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, as McChrystal’s replacement. Petraeus oversaw the so-called surge in Iraq.

June is Deadliest Month for NATO Occupation in Afghan War

McChrystal’s firing comes just as June has become the deadliest month for the US-led NATO occupation force in Afghanistan since the invasion nearly nine years ago. The Associated Press reports seventy-nine international troops have died this month, including forty-six Americans. The toll surpasses the previous monthly high of seventy-five troop deaths in July 2009.

Oil Spill Worsens After Containment Cap Damaged

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became dramatically worse on Wednesday after a robotic submarine accidentally crashed into the containment device that had been siphoning off gushing oil. Taking government estimates, the uncapped gusher could again be spewing up to 2.52 million gallons of oil a day. National Incident Commander Thad Allen announced the accident at a news conference.

Adm. Thad Allen: "We had an incident earlier today, where they noticed that there was some kind of a gas rising through the vent that carries the warm water down that prohibits hydrates from forming. Out of abundance of caution, the Discover Enterprise removed the containment cap from the riser pipe and moved away, until they could assess the condition. They’ve indicated that the problem was a remotely operated vehicle that had been around the lower marine riser package had bumped into one of those vents that allows the excess oil to come out."

"Despondent" Gulf Boat Captain Commits Suicide

Allen also announced that two workers involved in the spill cleanup have died in unrelated incidents. One of the deceased, William Allen Kruse, took his own life Wednesday morning with a gunshot to the head. Kruse was an Alabama-based charter boat captain who had been recently hired to assist BP’s operations. He was described as being quote "despondent" about the oil disaster in the Gulf.

Report: Iranian Officers Seized US Hikers in Iraq

The Nation magazine is reporting the three American hikers jailed in Iran for nearly a year were arrested on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq border — not in Iran as the Iranian government has claimed. The Iranian government has vowed to prosecute Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd on espionage charges since claiming they had crossed over into Iran last July. Speaking to Democracy Now!, Esther Kaplan of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund said two Iraqis reported witnessing the arrest on their side of the border.

Esther Kaplan: "What they saw was the NAJA [Iranian police force] police officers on the Iranian side gesturing menacingly for Shane Bauer and his companions to cross over onto Iranian territory. When [the hikers] didn’t cross, the NAJA officers fired a shot, and when they still didn’t respond, they moved into Iraqi territory and arrested them."

The Nation also reports two additional sources have revealed that the Iranian officer who likely ordered the hikers’ detention was himself arrested shortly after on charges of smuggling, kidnapping and murder. The officer is still behind bars.

5 US Citizens Sentenced to 10 Years in Pakistan

A Pakistani court has sentenced five US citizens to ten years in prison for making contact with militant groups and plotting attacks against US troops in Afghanistan. The five, all male students in their twenties, were arrested in December shortly after arriving from the United States. They’ve claimed they’ve been tortured since their arrest and had traveled to Pakistan only to help provide financial and medical support to fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. Defense attorneys say they plan to appeal.

CIA Awards Blackwater Another Contract in Afghanistan

The Obama administration has awarded a second contract to the private military firm Blackwater in less than a week. The Washington Post reports Blackwater has landed a $100 million deal to guard CIA facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The news comes just days after Blackwater offshoot US Training Center won a $120 million contract to guard US consulates in two Afghan towns. At a hearing of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan this week, a top State Department official was repeatedly asked whether Blackwater’s past performance, notably the massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in September 2007, had been factored into the decision to grant it a new contract. The official, International Programs assistant director Charlene Lamb, initially claimed Blackwater’s past performance was weighed equally with two other factors. But after conferring with a colleague following additional questioning, Lamb retracted her statement.

Charlene Lamb: "Let us get back to you. We were not prepared to answer that question today, and this is out of my ballpark."

Clark Kent Ervin: "So you don’t have any idea what the relative weight was?"

Charlene Lamb: "I don’t want to guess, sir, please."

Israel Launches Spy Satellite

The Israeli government has launched a spy satellite apparently capable of monitoring Iran. The Horizon-9 satellite was launched this week from a southern Israeli military base. The launch comes shortly after the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency said Israel should launch a military attack on Iran. Speaking to an Israeli conference, Shabtai Shavit said, "Since there is an ongoing war, since the threat is permanent, since the intention of the enemy…is to annihilate you, the right doctrine is one of preemption and not of retaliation."

Poll: Most Palestinians Support Peace Deal with Israel

A new poll shows a majority of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories support reaching a peace agreement with the Israeli government. According to the Norwegian-based group FAFO, 73 percent of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza say they support negotiations with Israel but that the talks should be preconditioned on a settlement freeze. The poll also shows growing support for nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation, with the number of Palestinians who oppose rocket attacks from Gaza increasing to 61 percent from 53 percent. Israel has refused a settlement freeze while also rejecting any peace agreement that would involve giving up its large settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

Israel Accused of Unlawfully Treating Jailed Nuclear Whistleblower

The Israeli government is being accused of unlawfully treating the jailed Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu by holding him in solitary confinement. Vanunu was initially released from prison in 2004 after serving an eighteen-year sentence for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Israel has barred him from leaving the country and sent him back to jail last month for violating the terms of his parole by having contact with a foreigner. In a statement, Amnesty International said, "[Vanunu] suffered immensely when he was held in solitary confinement for eleven years after his imprisonment in 1986, and to return him to such conditions now is nothing less than cruel, inhuman or degrading."

Swedish Dockworkers Launch Week-Long Boycott of Israeli Ships

In Sweden, dockworkers have launched a week-long boycott of all ships and goods originating from or destined to Israel. The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union had announced the action shortly after the Israeli killing of nine activists in its assault on the Free Gaza Movement’s aid flotilla last month. The dockworkers’ protest will take place at all unionized Swedish ports until Tuesday. It comes days after hundreds of Bay Area peace activists temporarily prevented an Israeli ship from unloading its goods at an Oakland port after the local longshoremen’s union refused to cross their picket line.

UN Calls for Upholding MDG Pledges

The United Nations is renewing calls on the world’s richest countries to meet their pledges on tackling global poverty and hunger ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto. President Obama is among the world leaders headed to Toronto on Friday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the global financial crisis shouldn’t excuse inaction on meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "It’s true that financial and economic crisis worldwide has impacted the capacity of member states and United Nations as a whole in meeting this MDG and other development and other global challenges. But that does not — that should not, or must not, give any excuse for the developed countries to slow down their commitments."

Study Ranks US Last on Healthcare

A new comparative study on healthcare has ranked the US last behind six other industrialized countries. The Commonwealth Fund evaluated the US along with Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand on "quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives." The study says the US has the least equitable system, while ranking near the bottom in quality of services. The US system is also the most expensive, with Americans paying more than double for healthcare per capita than any other country on the list. The Netherlands ranked first overall. Noting the 15 percent of Americans who lack insurance, the study concludes, "The lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen."

Witnesses Recant Testimony at Hearing for Georgia Death Row Prisoner Troy Anthony Davis

The Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis has finally gotten his day in court after nearly two decades behind bars. On Wednesday, Davis’s attorneys presented their case that Davis was wrongly convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer. Multiple witnesses took the stand to recant their testimony in Davis’s original trial, saying police coercion and intimidation had led them to lie about Davis. One witness said he had made up parts of his original testimony in return for receiving a lighter sentence in his own case. Two witnesses also said that another man has since confessed to the killing. The Supreme Court ordered the evidentiary hearing last year to allow the defense to present evidence that could establish his innocence. The prosecution is presenting its case today.

Admin Unveils Homelessness Goals

The Obama administration has unveiled a plan that calls for ending homelessness for children, families and veterans. The "Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness" seeks to end homelessness for families and children in ten years and for veterans in five years. Supporters say the plan marks the first federal initiatives on ending homelessness with a timeline and benchmarks.

Judge Rules UC Police Illegally Searched Journalist’s Camera

A California judge has ruled the University of California police illegally searched the camera of a photojournalist arrested at a December protest against education budget cuts and tuition hikes. The journalist, David Morse, had his camera confiscated and was jailed overnight after demonstrators rallied outside the home of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. In issuing the ruling, the judge upheld a California law restricting police searches of journalists’ unpublished material.

White House Budget Director Orszag to Resign

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is stepping down from his position by the end of the year. Orszag becomes the first Cabinet-level administration official to resign since President Obama took office.

Oregon Police Investigated Gore for Unwanted Sexual Contact in 2006

And Oregon state prosecutors have disclosed former Vice President Al Gore was accused of unwanted sexual contact by a Portland massage therapist in October 2006. The alleged victim initially told police Gore had forcefully tried to have sex with her during an appointment at a Portland hotel. But she later refused to be interviewed and didn’t want the investigation to proceed. The woman later changed her mind and gave a statement in January 2009, but detectives decided there was insufficient evidence to press charges. A spokesperson said Gore has no comment. Gore and his wife Tipper Gore announced their separation earlier this month after forty years of marriage.


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