The crisis in Pakistan is growing as advancing floodwaters have forced more people to abandon their homes. On Thursday, the flooding devastated new areas of southern Punjab province, home to half of Pakistan’s 170 million people. Over 500,000 people have been evacuated and 250,000 homes destroyed so far. The death toll remains at over 1,600 but is expected to rise. The United Nations says over four million Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding, which it calls "a major catastrophe."
An unknown number of civilians have been killed in a US-led NATO bombing in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Afghan witnesses say the victims were in a house and a group of parked vehicles when they were struck by NATO missiles. NATO says it was responding to insurgent fire after an operation in the region. Witnesses say the civilian death toll could be anywhere between a dozen to thirty-two. The deaths come as the Afghan government has put the number of Afghan civilians killed in a US Marine attack in Helmand province last month at thirty-nine. The victims were inside a house where Taliban fighters had taken up positions on the roof. The US contends the civilian toll is far lower, at six deaths.
The Pentagon is demanding the whistleblower website WikiLeaks hand over its entire cache of classified military documents on the Afghan war and erase those it’s already released. WikiLeaks has said it still has 15,000 documents on top of the 76,000 it disclosed last month. Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell called on WikiLeaks to "do the right thing" and return the documents in full.
Geoff Morrell: "WikiLeaks’s public disclosure last week of a large number of our documents has already threatened the safety of our troops, our allies and Afghan citizens who are working with us to help bring about peace and stability in that part of the world. Public disclosure of additional Defense Department classified information can only make the damage worse. The only acceptable course is for WikiLeaks to take steps immediately to return all versions of all of these documents to the US government and permanently delete them from its website, computers and records."
In a response on its Twitter page, WikiLeaks commented, "Obnoxious Pentagon spokesperson issues formal threat against WikiLeaks: Destroy everything, or else."
In related news, the antiwar group Code Pink is holding a rally Sunday at the Quantico, Virginia military base where the accused military whistleblower Bradley Manning is being detained. Manning is accused of leaking the Afghan war records and other documents, as well as classified video of a US military helicopter killing a group of people in Baghdad. Right-wing groups have announced plans for a counter-protest at the Code Pink rally.
BP has finished pumping cement into its ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well ahead of a permanent blow-out operation later this month. National Incident Commander Thad Allen said that no further oil will spill into the Gulf until the final "bottom kill" operation seals the well.
Adm. Thad Allen: "The decision was made last night that the well is in a proper condition where we could cement it. That would increase the integrity of the well as far as a potential leak of hydrocarbons and would actually enhance our ability to do the bottom kill. This is not the end, but it will virtually assure us that there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment."
With the Gulf oil disaster entering a new phase, questions are emerging around BP’s plans for the oil that remains beneath the well. There has been speculation BP will try to sell off the reservoir or even resume drilling at a future date to capture the estimated 1.9 billion gallons that haven’t spewed into the Gulf. On Thursday, a BP spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s plans for the well when asked by the Associated Press.
The Senate has confirmed Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court with a 63-to-27 vote. Kagan will become the fourth female Supreme Court justice in US history and the third on the Court’s current bench. She will also be the first new justice in nearly four decades without any prior judicial experience and, at fifty years old, the Court’s youngest member. At the White House, President Obama called Kagan’s confirmation "a sign of progress."
President Obama: "I am confident that Elena Kagan will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. And I’m proud also of the history we’re making with her appointment."
Chief Justice John Roberts will swear Kagan in on Saturday.
In another vote, the Senate confirmed the nomination of retired Air Force general James Clapper as the next Director of National Intelligence. As the former head of the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Clapper played a key role in promoting the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 invasion.
The votes came on the Senate’s final day before the summer recess. The Senate adjourned after again failing to finalize a $1.25 billion settlement for African American farmers in a class action lawsuit over longtime racial discrimination. The settlement was reached earlier this year, but Republicans have blocked the required congressional approval. On Thursday, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming stalled the measure after Democrats sought unanimous consent for its passage.
Mexico’s Supreme Court has upheld a law allowing gay marriages in the capital Mexico City. The law went into effect in March following its passage last year. Mexican gay rights activist Lol Kin Castañeda praised the ruling.
Lol Kin Castañeda: "It’s a historic moment in which our rights — the rights of all citizens without differentiation because of sexual preference or orientation — are being recognized by the government, by the laws, with the same rights. So, of course, we’re very happy about this first voting, in which the right of people of the same gender to marry is recognized as completely constitutional."
More than 300 couples have wed under the law since its passage.
The Grammy Award-winning Haitian American musician Wyclef Jean has announced his candidacy for president in his home country of Haiti. Jean says he will speak as a voice of Haitian youth, who make up over half of Haiti’s population. Jean has previously been criticized for his stance on the 2004 US-backed coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Jean appeared to back the coup at the time, and his uncle is known as a prominent coup supporter. Haiti will hold elections on November 28 to replace President René Préval, whose term ends in February.
Hundreds of people boarded a New York boat on Thursday night to support a planned aid mission to the Gaza Strip. Organizers with the US Boat to Gaza campaign are hoping to raise at least $370,000 to join the new international aid flotilla planned for later this year. The boat is named The Audacity of Hope after President Obama’s bestselling book. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights praised the new effort.
Michael Ratner: "Not enough aid is getting in for people to survive. The situation is desperate. And for years, all the countries in the world have done is talk about it, and no one has done anything about it. So with the flotillas that have gone so far, we’re beginning to see some change. And my view is that change, social change, progressive change, change in the blockade, comes when we have people actually engaging in action to break a blockade that is, in my view, utterly illegal."
Also supporting the campaign was Emily Henochowicz, the twenty-one-year-old US art student who lost her left eye in May after being shot in the face by an Israeli tear gas canister at a protest against Israel’s deadly attack on the first Free Gaza flotilla.
Emily Henochowicz: "The main thing is that when you’re not there, it can seem so much more shocking to talk about freeing Palestine and freeing — you know, when you talk about the blockade on Gaza and trying to see Palestinians just as regular people, when you’re there, it just makes so much sense."
(Related Coverage: Emily Henochowicz Speaks Out: Art Student Who Lost Her Eye After Being Shot by Israeli Tear Gas Canister in West Bank Protest Discusses Her Life, Her Art, and Why She Plans to Return)
New details have emerged on the imprisonment and rendition of foreign terror suspects under the Bush administration. The Associated Press reports the CIA brought four key prisoners to Guantánamo Bay earlier than previously thought and then returned them to overseas prisons to avoid the prospect of their receiving a legal defense and recounting their ordeal in US custody. The four arrived at Guantánamo Bay in September 2003 after being collected from secret prisons abroad. But the suspects were sent back to secret prisons overseas in March 2004 — just weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would begin hearing oral arguments in a case challenging Guantánamo detentions.
Democratic Congress member Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has introduced a measure that would bar the targeted killings of US citizens. In a statement, Kucinich said, "It was unacceptable when detainees at Guantánamo were held without due process, especially since many were later exonerated. It is unimaginable that the US would then replace detainment with outright killing."
The Justice Department has charged fourteen people with providing support for the militant group al-Shabab in Somalia. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled the case in Washington.
Attorney General Eric Holder: "Today, the Department of Justice unsealed four separate indictments charging fourteen individuals with terrorism violations for providing money, personnel and services to al-Shabab, a terrorist group operating in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda. Two of these individuals have been arrested. These indictments and arrests in Minnesota, Alabama and California shed further light on a deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to al-Shabab from across the United States."
New figures show unemployment claims have reached their highest level in four months. The Labor Department says claims increased this week by 19,000 to 479,000. The Labor Department is also expected to report today job losses of 65,000 and a 9.6 percent unemployment rate last month, up from 9.5 percent in June. President Obama discussed the nation’s economic woes Thursday at an auto assembly plant in Chicago.
President Obama: "We’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve gone through a very, very difficult time. The auto industry has gone through a difficult time. And it’s not back to where it needs to be. Our economy is not yet where it needs to be."
And Missouri voters have rejected a key provision of the new federal healthcare forcing Americans to carry health insurance or face a penalty. A referendum opposing the insurance mandates passed this week with over 71 percent of the vote. It’s unlikely the vote will affect policy, as the measure doesn’t take effect until 2014, and the issue will likely be decided through the courts before then.