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Israeli commandos have seized another humanitarian aid boat headed to Gaza in an effort to break the blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza. Early on Saturday, Israel’s navy forcibly boarded an Irish-owned ship named the Rachel Corrie and then sailed it to an Israeli port. The boat was carrying 1,000 tons of medical and construction supplies for Gaza. Passengers included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday. The incident took place five days after Israeli commandos killed nine people on the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.
Passengers who were aboard the Mavi Marmara continue to provide new accounts of the Israeli assault. Some are now claiming they discovered a list of people the Israeli military intended to assassinate during their raid on the ship. The Independent of London reports passengers seized a booklet during their altercations with the Israeli forces who rappelled aboard. The passengers claim the booklet contained names and pictures of passengers the Israeli military intended to shoot dead. The Israeli military has denied the existence of an assassination list, and the claims could not be independently corroborated. A Turkish autopsy report shows the nine slain victims were shot a total of thirty times, many at close range. The Guardian newspaper reports five of those killed were shot either in the back of the head or in the back.
In news on the BP oil spill, Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen said it will take until at least the fall to deal with the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Allen appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.
Thad Allen: "This will only end when we intercept the well bore, pump mud down it to overcome the pressure of the oil coming up from the reservoir, and put a cement plug in. That’s what I would call bottom kill rather than top kill. The spill will not be contained until that happens. But even after that, there will be oil out there for months to come. This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically, but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts."
Bob Schieffer: "So, well into the fall."
Thad Allen: "As far as oil remediation and long-term environmental impacts, yes."
Since the spill began nearly seven weeks ago, roughly 23 million to 49 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf.
In Florida, oil tar balls have washed ashore on Pensacola Beach. The beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which advertises "the world’s whitest beaches." Buck Lee, the executive director of Santa Rosa Island Authority, criticized BP’s efforts to prevent oil from reaching the shores of Florida.
Buck Lee: "What upsets me right now is BP says, 'well, we have skimmers. We have thirty or forty skimmers to protect the beach.' You can take your cameraman, look out there in the Gulf, try to find one. You’re not going to find it. BP lied again."
The Associated Press is reporting more than half of the federal judges in Gulf Coast districts with pending spill-related lawsuits have financial ties to the oil and gas industry. A survey of judicial financial disclosure reports shows thirty-seven of sixty-four active or senior judges in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are linked to energy companies, including some with holdings in BP, Halliburton and Transocean.
The US military has arrested an intelligence analyst who may have been responsible for leaking classified video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians in 2007. The website Wired.com reports Specialist Bradley Manning has been held without charge since being detained at his military base in Iraq two weeks ago. A former computer hacker told Wired he turned Manning in after Manning claimed to have released the video footage along with hundreds of thousands of classified US government records to Wikileaks, a whistleblower website. The video shows a US military gunship indiscriminately killing twelve Iraqis and wounding several others, including two children. A friend of Manning’s says Manning was hopeful that the Wikileaks video would lead to accountability for the Iraqi deaths and help prevent future killings.
More details have emerged on the Obama administration’s expansion of covert military operations abroad. Last month, the New York Times reported the US has authorized a major expansion of clandestine military operations abroad that includes intelligence gathering for a possible attack on Iran. Last week, the Washington Post reported Special Operations forces are now deployed in seventy-five countries, compared to sixty at the start of last year. Now independent journalist Jeremy Scahill reports for The Nation magazine that some of the countries where elite special forces have been deployed, aside from Iran, include Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. Forces have also been deployed to support US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico.
Amnesty International has released evidence showing that the United States was directly involved in an air strike in Yemen in December that killed fifty-five people, including fourteen women and twenty-one children. Photographs released by Amnesty appear to show parts of a US-manufactured Tomahawk cruise missile that carried cluster munitions. Amnesty said this type of missile is designed to carry a payload of 166 cluster bomblets which each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments. Neither the USA nor Yemen has yet signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty designed to comprehensively ban such weapons. The treaty is due to enter into force in August.
President Obama has nominated James Clapper, Jr. to be director of national intelligence to replace the ousted Dennis Blair. Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general who is currently undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
President Obama: "With four decades of service to America, Jim is one of our nation’s most experienced and most respected intelligence professionals. As undersecretary of defense for intelligence, he has successfully overseen the military and civilian intelligence personnel and budgets that make up the bulk of our sixteen-agency intelligence community. He has improved information sharing, increased intelligence support to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, upheld civil liberties, and he played a key role in our effort to update and reorient our intelligence community to meet the threats of our time."
If approved by the Senate, James Clapper would be the fourth director in five years since the job was created. On Capitol Hill, key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed concern over Clapper’s close ties to the Pentagon, which already controls the bulk of the classified intelligence budget.
A new report from Physicians for Human Rights has accused the Bush administration of conducting illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on prisoners in CIA custody. The report details how doctors, psychologists and other professionals monitored sleep deprivation on more than a dozen prisoners, as well as the effects of large- volume waterboarding. Frank Donaghue of Physicians for Human Rights said, “The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation. Not only are these alleged acts gross violations of human rights law, they are a grave affront to America’s core values.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo has suspended its police chief and arrested several officers in a probe into the murder of the human rights campaigner Floribert Chebeya. Congo’s national police chief John Numbi has reportedly been put under house arrest. Floribert Chebeya headed the group Voice of the Voiceless. His body was found in his car on Wednesday. He had been due to meet the police chief the night before his death.
In news from India, eight former senior employees of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary have been convicted of "death by negligence" for their roles in the Bhopal gas disaster that left an estimated 15,000 people dead more than twenty-five years ago. The former employees face up to two years in prison. The convictions are the first since the disaster at the Union Carbide plant, the world’s worst industrial accident.
The American activist Tristan Anderson has returned home to California for the first time since he was critically injured fifteen months ago when Israeli soldiers fired a high-velocity tear gas canister directly at his head. Anderson was shot while taking part in a weekly nonviolent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin. The shooting caused severe traumatic brain injury and blindness in his right eye. The thirty-nine-year-old Anderson remains in a wheelchair and has not yet regained the use of the left side of his body. Supporters of Tristan have published a recent photograph of him on the website justicefortristan.org. It is the first photo released since Tristan was injured.
The US embassy is demanding an investigation into the Israeli military’s shooting of another US citizen. Last week, twenty-one-year-old Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye after being shot during a protest in the West Bank. Henochowicz is a student at Cooper Union here in New York. Her father is originally from Israel, and she also has Israeli citizenship.
The veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas is under fire for comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a brief video interview with the website RabbiLive.com, Thomas said her message to Israelis is to "get the hell out of Palestine." Thomas also suggested Israeli Jews should return to Poland, Germany or the United States. In a statement, Thomas said she "deeply regrets" her remarks, adding, "They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance." Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under President George W. Bush, is calling on Thomas’s employer, Hearst Newspapers, to fire her. And former White House special counsel Lanny Davis, who served under President Bill Clinton, says the White House should revoke her press credentials. The eighty-nine-year-old Thomas has covered every US president dating back to John F. Kennedy.
The legendary alternative rock group the Pixies have become the latest artists to cancel a scheduled performance in Israel following boycott calls. Concert organizers say the cancellation was linked to the Israeli assault on the Free Gaza flotilla. The move came days after the British group Gorillaz also canceled an upcoming concert in Israel. Other artists to cancel Israel performances in recent months include Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana and Gil Scott-Heron.
Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez played at New York’s Carnegie Hall on Friday in his first performance in the United States in over thirty years. Rodriguez is known throughout Latin America as the voice of the Cuban revolution. He last performed in the United States in 1980. Since then he has been repeatedly denied visas.