More details have emerged about the U.S. soldier accused in the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers. A U.S. official told the New York Times the soldier had been drinking alcohol and suffering stress related to his fourth military deployment. The military is reportedly preparing to bring the soldier back to the United States for military detention at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, just days after moving him to Kuwait. A prominent Seattle-based attorney emerged Thursday to announce he will defend the soldier. The attorney, John Henry Browne, has represented clients including the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. In comments to journalists, Browne spoke of the soldier’s multiple deployments and his family’s reaction to the charges.
John Henry Browne: "He was told that he was not going to be redeployed. And they were—the family was counting on him not being redeployed. And so, he and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over. And then, literally overnight, that changed. So I think that it would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back... Oh, they were totally shocked. He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He’s never said anything antagonistic about Middle Eastern individuals. He’s, in general, been very mild-mannered. So, they were very shocked by this."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is set to meet today with the families of the 16 civilians killed in the massacre. On Thursday, Karzai called on U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghan villages. Meanwhile, the Taliban has announced they are suspending peace talks with the United States, accusing the United States of changing a list of demands required for dialogue.
Syrian human rights groups are claiming at least 45 civilians have been killed in government attacks in the northern province of Idlib. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than half the victims’ bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs. Syrian opposition activists are holding new protests today to condemn the regime of Bashar al-Assad and call for greater international aid. Speaking for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a U.N. spokesperson condemned the Syrian crackdown.
Martin Nesirky: "Well over 8,000 people are dead as a result of the government’s decision to choose violent repression over peaceful political dialogue and genuine change. It is urgent to break the cycle of violence, stop military operations against civilians and prevent a further militarization of the conflict in Syria. The status quo in Syria is indefensible.”
The global electronic payment system SWIFT has announced it is cutting ties to Iranian banks boycotted under European Union sanctions. European countries sanctioned Iranian banks earlier this year in a stated bid to pressure Iran over its alleged nuclear activities. Meanwhile in Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland denied reports the United States has issued new warnings to Iran through Russia.
Victoria Nuland: "The Secretary did not send a warning to the Iranians through (Russian) Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov. The conversation that they had on Iran centered around ensuring that these talks, as they start, are structured in a way that they cannot—that they bring substantive results, that they can’t be used for stalling and that they can’t be used for covering continuing activity."
The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt despite concerns over human rights abuses under the country’s military government. The move would avert a new congressional provision that ties military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to waive the requirement early next week on national security grounds. Rights groups have objected to the decision to resume military aid, saying it undermines the struggle of the Egyptian people, whose popular revolution resulted in the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak. On a visit to Egypt, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed the strengthening of bilateral ties.
Nancy Pelosi: "The interest of Egypt and surrounding areas, as well as the United States, is well served by a strong and stable Egypt. To the extent that that assistance is in furtherance of that stability, we will certainly be there. However, we want to be there in a way that is directly beneficial to the Egyptian people and that they’re aware of our friendship."
U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning is scheduled to appear in military court in Fort Meade, Maryland, today for a second day of hearings. On Thursday, the military accused Manning of indirectly aiding al-Qaeda by leaking a trove of secret documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, a defense lawyer asked that all charges against Manning be dropped, saying the government had failed to turn over requested documents and information. Manning faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, which could result in life imprisonment.
A connection has been revealed between the private equity firm Bain Capital — founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — and a company that supplies surveillance equipment to the Chinese government. A Bain-run fund has purchased the video surveillance division of the company, which claims to be the largest to supply the government’s Safe Cities program. A blind trust held by the Romney family has holdings in the company. The Chinese program involves widespread government surveillance in universities, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters.
Mitt Romney’s main challenger, Rick Santorum, is facing criticism for saying Puerto Rico should adopt English as its primary language if it wants to become a U.S. state. Campaigning in Puerto Rico ahead of Sunday’s caucuses there, Santorum said Puerto Rico would need to make the change in order to comply with federal law. But the U.S. Constitution has no rule requiring the adoption of the English language as a requisite for new states. Santorum’s comments have cost him at least one delegate in Puerto Rico, who quit in protest.
An imprisoned Yemeni journalist whose story was featured on Thursday’s Democracy Now! came up at the White House on Thursday during the daily briefing of Press Secretary Jay Carney. Speaking to Democracy Now! on Thursday, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill described the plight of Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who exposed how the United States was behind a 2009 bombing in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children. Shaye was sentenced to prison last year and has apparently been kept behind bars under pressure from President Obama.
Jeremy Scahill: "You have major human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. You have every legal and human rights organization in Yemen. You have very prominent foreign correspondents who have spoken out on this case, some of whom knew Abdulelah Haider Shaye. So they’re on one side of it, condemning his trial as a sham, talking about who he actually was as a journalist. And on the other side of it, you have the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, a specialized criminal tribunal set up to go after journalists, and the White House. And so, President Obama is the single person keeping that man in prison right now, because even the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was prepared to release him, and it was a phone call, not from one of Obama’s people, from Obama himself that kept him in prison."
Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was questioned about the case.
Jake Tapper: "There’s been some press notice to a Yemeni journalist who’s been detained. President Obama, when he spoke to President Saleh more than a year ago — it was actually mentioned in the readout that the President expressed concern over the release of — I know I’m going to botch the pronunciation of his name — but Abdulelah Shaye, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP. There have been journalistic organizations, international ones, who have protested his detention and expressed curiosity, if not outrage, that President Obama would be involving himself in the detention of a journalist. Can you tell us anything about why President Obama thinks that this man — apparently thinks that this man is a threat?"
Jay Carney: "I appreciate the question, Jake, but I will have to take it, because I don’t have any information on it. But I’ll get back to you."
A federal appeals court appears to be on the verge of throwing out a lower court’s rejection of a proposed $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission over Citigroup’s sale of toxic mortgage debt. In a major decision last year, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said the proposed settlement was "neither reasonable, nor fair, nor adequate, nor in the public interest" and "pocket change to any entity as large as Citigroup." The SEC had accused Citigroup of selling $1 billion of deceptive mortgage-backed securities in 2007 just as the nation’s housing bubble was about to burst. Citigroup made $160 million in profits on the transaction, while investors lost $700 million. Rakoff’s decision stood to have a major impact on how the SEC settles cases with major banks down the line. But on Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized Rakoff’s decision, saying there is "no reason to doubt" that the settlement is in the public interest.
Dozens of people rallied in New York on Thursday to protest Bank of America for its foreclosure practices and billions in government aid. At least three people were arrested after demonstrating at a Bank of America branch.
Austin Guest: "The message today was very simple. Bank of America is a criminal institution that has stolen $230 billion in bailout money alone from the American people. They’ve stolen our homes. They steal from taxpayers, and they kill the environment. So today we took our homes to Bank of America. We’re starting a campaign to break up the bank, to end the Bank of America corporation, to take its assets and redistribute them to institutions that will be accountable to the American people. Because it’s our money, right? It’s our trillions of dollars that they’ve been using to fly on jets, to buy their houses while they kick us out of ours. So we’re going to take our money, and we’re going to put it into institutions that do things that are good for our people, and not institutions that hurt, destroy and rob from our people."
Occupy Wall Street members have organized the so-called "Fight BAC" action to continue through May.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has begun serving a 14-year sentence in a Colorado federal prison. Blagojevich was convicted last year on a number of corruption charges, including trying to sell or trade President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash.
The FBI has arrested a Pennsylvania man outside of Pittsburgh just days after he publicly claimed he was being entrapped by government informants. Khalifah al-Akili, a convert to Islam, was arrested on a firearm violation. He is scheduled to appear in court today. On Sunday, he posted a Facebook message accusing a government informant named Shahed Hussain of attempting to entrap him earlier this year. Mother Jones magazine recently described Hussain as an "FBI Super-informant" for playing a key role in the terror prosecutions of the Newburgh 4 and Albany-based cleric Yassin Aref.
Two Democratic senators are slamming the government’s secret interpretation of its surveillance powers under the USA PATRIOT Act. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said Americans would be “stunned” to learn what the government believes they can do under the law. The senators also questioned the value of the government’s secret efforts to national security. They write: "There is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”
The award-winning photographer Paula Lerner has died at the age of 52. Lerner was the principal photographer for the Emmy Award-winning project, "Behind the Veil: An Intimate Journey into the Lives of Kandahar’s Women Featuring Photography." It appeared in the Toronto Globe & Mail. In 2009, she provided photographs to Democracy Now! for an interview with the Afghan activist Rangina Hamidi.