The bodies of the nine dead activists killed by Israeli troops in the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla have returned to Turkey. Forensic experts have confirmed that all nine were shot with guns. Eight of the victims were Turkish nationals, and one was a US citizen of Turkish origin. The US citizen has been identified as nineteen-year-old Furkan Dogan. He reportedly had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest. Some 450 of the remaining activists also arrived in Turkey earlier today after being released from Israeli custody. A number of wounded activists were immediately rushed to Turkish hospitals for medical treatment. Survivors of the assault continue to accuse Israel of firing on the ship before its soldiers rappelled aboard. Al Jazeera cameraman Issam Zatari spoke out on Wednesday after returning home to Belgium.
Issam Zatari: "The Israeli soldier started jumping from the chopper to the surface of the boat, was firing, started firing from the air, to anyone, and then threw a chemical bomb, a sounding bomb, and gas bomb, a lot of noisy things you can listen at the same time. And I was lucky because I was filming all the things. And in around six minute they start to attacking our boat."
The Israeli government continues to reject calls for an international inquiry and says any probe should be under its control and should focus only on operational mistakes. In a televised address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed criticism of assault as "hypocrisy."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment. I’m afraid this isn’t the first time. Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians."
Netanyahu went on to deny that the passengers aboard the flotilla were peace activists, calling them "violent supporters of terrorism."
The Obama administration meanwhile continues to back the Israeli assault on the flotilla while rejecting calls for an end to the Gaza blockade. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Vice President Joe Biden said Israel should decide whether its siege of Gaza should continue. Biden also criticized the aid flotilla for trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
Joseph Biden: "You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not, but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in. And up to now, Charlie, what’s happened? They’ve said, 'Here you go. You're in the Mediterranean. This ship, if you divert slightly north, you can unload it, and we’ll get the stuff into Gaza.’ So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it’s legitimate for Israel to say, 'I don't know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight — 3,000 rockets on my people.’"
Biden’s comments came as the US voted against a United Nations Human Rights Council proposal to establish an independent international inquiry into the raid. The measure passed by a vote of 32-to-three. US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said Israel should carry out its own probe.
Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe: "Unfortunately, the resolution before us rushes to judgment on a set of facts that, as our debate over the last day makes clear, are only beginning to be discovered and understood. It creates an international mechanism before giving the responsible government an opportunity to investigate this incident itself and thereby risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation."
BP’s latest attempt to contain the worst oil spill in US history has hit a new snag as the size of the disaster continues to grow. On Wednesday, a large underwater saw got stuck for twelve hours while slicing through the underwater well. BP says it will try again to cut off and then cap the well, but the flow of oil could temporarily increase by as much as 20 percent even if it succeeds. In an interview with the Financial Times, BP CEO Tony Hayward admitted the company wasn’t prepared to handle the spill, saying, "What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit." The White House, meanwhile, has ordered BP to pay for five more Louisiana barrier island sand berms to contain the spill. The berms will cost around $360 million.
Blobs of oil are now reaching nearby states. Workers have scooped oil from the shores of Dauphin Island, Alabama and parts of Mississippi. And the oil sheen is now about ten miles from the Florida Panhandle. In other spill news, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a research vessel to probe findings of large oil plumes trapped underseas. BP has challenged scientists’ claims to have discovered the Gulf plumes.
Federal regulators, meanwhile, have approved the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Obama lifted a temporary ban on shallow-water drilling last week. On Wednesday, the Minerals Management Service authorized a permit for Bandon Oil and Gas to drill at a site about fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana. Environmentalists have criticized the Obama administration for allowing continued drilling at shallow-water sites.
At an appearance in Pittsburgh, President Obama invoked the oil spill to urge support for passage of an energy bill in Congress. Obama also said containing the oil spill is the nation’s top priority.
President Obama: "It’s a time when the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history is threatening the Gulf Coast and the people who live there. Right now, stopping this oil spill and containing its damage is necessarily the top priority, not just of my administration, but I think of the entire country, and we’re waging this battle every minute of every day."
A senior United Nations official has formally asked the Obama administration to halt or scale back CIA drone strikes on alleged militant suspects in Pakistan. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, said US secrecy around the drone program is undermining international law. Alston will detail his findings before the UN Human Rights Council later today.
The New York Times revealed last week the Obama administration modified rules on military commissions to protect drone operators from facing allegations of war crimes. The old rules defined "murder in violation of the laws of war" as killings by those who don’t meet "the requirements for lawful combatancy." That definition could have implicated CIA drone operators, who aren’t members of the military.
In Afghanistan, violence erupted on Wednesday at the opening of an Afghan government meeting billed as an attempt to negotiate a truce with the Taliban. A large blast exploded and a gunfight erupted as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering an address. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the meeting a ploy by the US-led occupation.
Back in the United States, President Obama has expanded benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees. On Wednesday, Obama said he had ordered government agencies to provide benefits including assistance services, hardship transfers and relocation expenses. Obama says existing federal law prevents him from taking further steps to provide same-sex couples with the full array of benefits offered to heterosexual married couples and called on Congress to pass legislation to correct the discrepancy.
And a prison guard at a privately run Texas immigration jail has been fired for allegedly sexually assaulting several women prisoners. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the guard groped several women and solicited sex from at least one woman while transporting them to their deportation flights. ICE says the company hired to run the prison, Corrections Corporation of American, is on probation pending the outcome of a probe into the allegations.