Gay and lesbian couples who were hoping to get married in California this week were dealt a setback Monday when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no same-sex marriages could take place in the state while the court considers the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban. The appeals court decision reverses a ruling last week by US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who had said marriages could resume while higher courts considered the matter. Walker was the federal judge who struck down Proposition 8, the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. The appeals court said it would hear the Proposition 8 challenge on an expedited basis and hold arguments the week of December 6.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has become the most prominent Democrat to oppose the construction of a mosque and Islamic center in Lower Manhattan two blocks from Ground Zero. A spokesperson for Reid said Monday, "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else." Reid’s comments come at a time when he is facing a tough reelection battle in Nevada with tea party favorite Sharron Angle. Here in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to be a vocal supporter of the Islamic center. On Monday, Bloomberg said it would be "a sad day for America" if the rising criticism killed the proposal. Meanwhile, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the effort to block the mosque could harm US relations overseas. Wilkerson told Media Matters, "The impact on our military people would be injurious if we say 'no.' It would put another instrument in the hands of those who want to exploit the fear that Americans are at war with Islam and not the radical elements within it."
In Iraq, at least fifty people have died after a suicide bomber attacked an army recruitment center in central Baghdad. At least 120 people were injured in the blast. The suicide bomber was reportedly wearing an army uniform and talking to recruits when the bomb went off.
The website Just Foreign Policy is reporting 575 US soldiers have lost their lives in the Afghan war since President Obama took office. That is the same number of US soldiers killed during the first seven years of the war under President Bush. When the next US soldier is reported dead, the majority of US deaths in Afghanistan will have occurred under President Obama. The tally is based on data from the webstite icasualties.org.
Robert Gates, who has served as defense secretary under both presidents, has said he plans to retire next year. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Gates said, “I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012."
While Pakistan is struggling to deal with the massive floods, the United States is continuing to carry out drone strikes in northwest Pakistan. The BBC reports at least thirty-five people died over the weekend in four separate drone strikes.
In Peru, the American activist Lori Berenson appeared in court Monday and pleaded with judges to let her stay out of jail on parole. In May, Berenson was freed on parole after serving nearly fifteen years of her twenty-year sentence. Berenson had been convicted in 1996 by hooded Peruvian military judges of collaborating with the rebel group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. During her court appearance on Monday, Berenson acknowledged having ties to the rebel group but said she was never a member of the group nor involved in violent acts.
Lori Berenson: "If my participation contributed to societal violence, I am very sorry for this. If my coming to Peru has meant more harm to the country, I am very sorry for this. And those who are affected by my words or actions, I ask for their forgiveness."
Peru’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor, Julio Galindo, asked the court to send her back to prison to finish her jail sentence.
Julio Galindo: "All terrorists, or at least those sentenced for terrorism, have a developed criteria with a personal context. They continue coordinating with terrorists. They continue collaborating. There is no variation there. So all of these regrets is merely a natural response that they use as a strategy."
Lori Berenson went on to tell the court she poses no threat to society and simply wants to focus on raising her son. She has asked for her sentence to be commuted so she and her son can go to the United States to seek medical treatment.
Lori Berenson: "I lament the repercussions that my parole has had on society. This has always been a media case, since I was detained. The truth is, despite how it hurts me, I accept that I have been ostracized, but according to the law and based on my behavior, I do not represent a danger for anyone."
The New York Times reports the Obama administration will soon issue new rules on Cuba that will make it easier for American academic, religious and cultural groups to visit the island nation. In addition, the administration is planning to allow flights to Cuba from more cities than the three — Miami, New York and Los Angeles — currently permitted. While travel restrictions are being eased, the Obama administration plans to leave intact the decades-old embargo on Cuba.
The Associated Press has revealed the CIA has tapes of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh being interrogated in a secret overseas prison in Morocco. The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only remaining recordings made within the secret prison system. In 2005, the CIA destroyed ninety-two videos of other prisoners being interrogated and tortured. At the time, the agency believed they had wiped away all of the agency’s interrogation footage, but the tapes of Binalshibh were later discovered in a box under a desk in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. A Justice Department prosecutor who is already investigating whether destroying the other torture tapes was illegal is now also probing why the Binalshibh tapes were never disclosed. Twice, the government told a federal judge they did not exist.
The Interior Department announced Monday that it will no longer exempt certain deepwater offshore oil drilling projects from environmental review. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that environmental impact statements will be required for all new deepwater drilling under US jurisdiction. But under the administration’s new plan, non-deepwater drilling operations may continue to be approved without environmental review.
Researchers at the University of Georgia have concluded that up to 79 percent of the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem. The marine scientists who authored the report said their findings contradict media reports that suggest that only 25 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill remains. Marine scientist Charles Hopkinson said, "One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless. The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade."
The Justice Department has dropped its six-year investigation of former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeLay still faces charges in his home state of in Texas of money laundering and conspiracy in connection with campaign donations during the 2002 election. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington criticized the Justice Department’s decision, saying it sends exactly the wrong message to current and future members.
A former Israeli soldier who posted photos of herself posing with blindfolded and bound Palestinian prisoners has defended her actions saying she did nothing wrong and that she had been a model soldier. The soldier, Eden Aberjil put the images on Facebook in an album entitled "The army: the best days of my life." In an interview on Army Radio, Aberjil said, "I just had my picture taken with them in the background. I did it out of excitement, to remember the experience." Yishai Menuchim of the Israeli Committee Against Torture said the incident "reflects an attitude which has become the norm and consists in treating Palestinians like objects, not like human beings".
Mexican President Felipe Calderón has publicly said he is willing to listen to arguments in favor of the legalization of drugs in an effort to end the drug war that has killed 28,000 people since 2006.
Felipe Calderón: "I also take note of the debate that has come up here regarding the regulation of drugs. It is an essential debate. Firstly, I think it should be considered in a pluralistic democracy — and it is great that we have that in this country — and that the pros and cons should always be deeply analyzed. The arguments of one person and another are fundamental."
Calderón’s comments come a week after former president Vicente Fox called for the legalization of drugs in both Mexico and the United States. Another supporter of drug legalization in Mexico has been Alejandro Madrazo, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Alejandro Madrazo: "If you take drugs out of the criminal realm, and therefore make trafficking legal, then the person moving the drugs does not need to physically control territory by violent means to be able to ship the drugs. Of course violence would drop. Of course not all violence would be eliminated, but it would drop. It is elementary logic."
Washington is facing increasing pressure to lift a ban on Mexican cargo trucks entering the United States. On Monday, Mexico increased tariffs on ninety-nine US products, including pork.
In California, a state judge has ordered the release of a man who was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison after trying to forcibly enter a church soup kitchen thirteen years ago because he was hungry. Gregory Taylor had been sentenced under the state’s controversial three-strikes law. Taylor’s release came in part due to efforts by students working on the Three Strikes Project at the Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School.
In Michigan, a twenty-two-year-old antiwar activist has been arrested after hitting Democratic Senator Carl Levin in the face with an apple pie. Ahlam Mohsen faces a felony charge of stalking, as well as misdemeanor counts of assault and disorderly conduct.