The U.S. hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, have been released in Iran after two years behind bars. Bauer and Fattal were granted bail and handed over to Swiss diplomats. Bauer and Fattal were arrested in 2009, along with Sarah Shourd, while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. Bauer is a freelance journalist who has contributed to Democracy Now! and other media outlets. Fattal is an environmental activist. Shourd was released last year.
The death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis has asked to take a polygraph test in the hopes of convincing Georgia officials to spare his life before a scheduled execution tonight. Davis’s request comes after Tuesday’s decision by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reject clemency. Shortly after the ruling came down, Laura Moye of Amnesty International condemned the board for allowing Troy Davis’s execution to proceed.
Laura Moye: "We are deeply saddened and shocked this morning. We cannot believe that the Board of Pardons and Paroles is allowing a person to go to his death despite the fact that serious doubts about his guilt remain unresolved. We were hopeful that they would act as an effective fail-safe to intervene in this execution."
Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer named Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. Davis is scheduled to be killed by lethal ejection at 7:00 p.m. EDT tonight. Democracy Now! will be doing a special broadcast outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m EDT, which can be streamed live online..
The Obama administration is reportedly building a ring of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula from which to target alleged al-Qaeda militants in Somalia and Yemen. According to the Washington Post, bases are being established in both Ethiopia and another in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean. Drone flights over Somalia and Yemen have been staged from bases in Djibouti. The CIA is said to be building an airstrip strictly for Yemen operations somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula.
A former Afghan president who had led negotiations with the Taliban has been assassinated in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, died after a suicide bomber attacked him in his home. The bomber was a Taliban representative who had arrived to meet with Rabbani for scheduled talks. Standing with President Obama at the United Nations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai honored Rabbani’s life.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "The chairman of the Afghan Peace Council, the former Afghan president and Afghan patriot, who, as we see, has sacrificed his life for the sake of Afghanistan and for the peace of our country—the mission that he had undertaken was vital, Mr. President, for the Afghan people and for the security of our country and for peace in our country. We will miss him very, very much."
In Afghanistan, the aid agency Oxfam is warning nearly three million people are facing food shortages because of severe drought. The drought has spread to 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in the north, northeast and west.
The African Union has announced it will recognize Libya’s new governing council, a major diplomatic step following the ouster of longtime leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The A.U.’s decision came as the flag of the new Libya was raised at the United Nations for the first time. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama were among the world leaders to congratulate the new Libyan government.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "For Libya, this is a historic day. Last Friday, the General Assembly of the United Nations overwhelmingly voted to accept the credentials of the new Libyan leadership. Today we are honored to formally welcome them into the international community and to this first major meeting at the United Nations."
President Obama: "So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue. And those still holding out must understand the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya."
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are rallying in the occupied West Bank towns of Ramallah and Nablus today in a show of support for the statehood bid at the United Nations. The demonstrations come ahead of a speech by President Obama in which he is expected to press his case for subverting the statehood attempt. The Israeli government is also frantically trying to thwart the Palestinian effort. Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attempt to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Mark Regev: "My prime minister has said he’s willing to meet President Abbas here in Jerusalem. He’s willing to go to Ramallah to meet President Abbas there. He said last night he’s willing to meet President Abbas in New York. President Abbas is already there. We will be arriving tomorrow. We want to see a meeting. We want to see the restart of the peace talks between us and the Palestinians."
The Obama administration has tried to undermine the Palestinian effort for statehood despite insisting it supports a two-state solution. On Tuesday, a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to denounce the Obama administration’s opposition to Palestinian statehood.
Protester: "We are here to protest against the intention of the United States to vote veto against a Palestinian state in the United Nations. We think that the United States is biased toward Israel and actually became an obstacle toward just peace in the region."
The top news director at the Arabic news network Al Jazeera has stepped down following the disclosure he changed the network’s Iraq War coverage following pressure from the United States. Diplomatic cables released by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks show the news director, Wadah Khanfar, held private meetings in which U.S. officials presented him with complaints about Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq War. One cable shows Khanfar removed images of wounded Iraqi civilians from Al Jazeera’s coverage following a U.S. request. Khanfar is quoted in the cables as stressing the need to keep his collaboration a secret.
The Pentagon marked the end of its longstanding ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers Tuesday with a news conference in Washington, D.C. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen both hailed the end of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "Let me acknowledge that this is an historic day for the Pentagon and for the nation. As of 12:01 a.m. this morning, we have the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ pursuant to the law that was passed by the Congress last December. Thanks to this change, I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America is all about: equality, equal opportunity, and dignity for all Americans."
Adm. Mike Mullen: "As you all know, I testified in early 2010 that it was time to end this law and this policy. I believed then, and I still believe, that it was, first and foremost, a matter of integrity, that it was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform. We are better than that."
Seven more people have been arrested in the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protests in downtown New York City. Protest organizer Justin Wedes was among those detained.
Justin Wedes: "This morning I was detained because I was speaking on a megaphone during an emergency general assembly when the NYPD began to raid our peaceful encampment here at Occupy Wall Street. I was released later with no criminal charges, and several other of my comrades have been detained, some released, again with no criminal charges, and some still being held, detained with no charges. We want to reiterate that this is a peaceful encampment, and we will continue and always remain peaceful. But we tell the NYPD that the world is watching and that you need to remain peaceful. You need to remain professional and courteous, like you have been so much of this time, and protect us, as you’re meant to do, not be violent with us."
The internet giant Yahoo has come under criticism, meanwhile, after reports surfaced it had blocked messages related to the ongoing protests on Wall Street. On Monday, the company apologized, saying the blockage was unintentional and has been resolved.