U.S. soldier Robert Bales is expected to be charged today for the massacre of Afghan civilians earlier this month. Bales will face 17 counts of murder, reflecting the revised death toll figure of 17 civilian dead, up from 16. Bales is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, following his removal from Afghanistan in the days after the shooting. Afghan human rights activist Nader Nadery criticized the U.S. military’s decision to try Bales outside of Afghanistan.
Nader Nadery: "It would have been much more better if the trial would have happened here in Afghanistan, or at least a close observation of human rights organizations, both internationally and national human rights organizations, or, in addition, the representative of victims to observe the trial."
Some 8,000 people rallied in Sanford, Florida, on Thursday in the largest rally to date to demand justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin. A 17-year-old African American, Martin was shot dead while walking in a gated community last month. He was unarmed. Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested or charged. Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, addressed the crowd.
Sybrina Fulton: "I stand before you today not knowing how I’m walking right now, because my heart hurts for my son. Trayvon is my son, Trayvon is your son. I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all your support. It means a lot to me and my family. We really appreciate it. We want justice for Trayvon."
Tracy Martin: "Without you all, we really have no support. You are our strength. You guys are what keep us going. If Trayvon would have been alive, Trayvon would have been at this rally. Trayvon was a people’s person. He didn’t deserve to die. And I pledge I will not let my son die in vain."
Many protesters at the rally wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Trayvon wore when he was killed. Also speaking to the crowd was the veteran civil rights activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Rev. Al Sharpton: "Trayvon could have been any one of our sons. Trayvon could have been any one of us. Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives that we’ve seen too long. And we come to tell you tonight, enough is enough. We are tired of going to jail for nothing, and others going home for something. Zimmerman should have been arrested that night."
The police chief in Sanford has announced he is temporarily stepping down, following an outpouring of criticism for failing to arrest or charge George Zimmerman in the murder case of Trayvon Martin. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee’s decision comes one day after city officials gave him a vote of no confidence. Lee, however, has maintained his departure will only be temporary. Hours later, the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, recused himself from the case.
President Obama has made a swing through Western states to promote his administration’s so-called "all of the above" energy policy. On Thursday, Obama appeared in Cushing, Oklahoma, to announce his support for TransCanada to build the southern leg of its Keystone oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas. The move comes two months after Obama rejected the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline after large protests by environmental groups.
President Obama: "There’s a bottleneck right here, because we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough. And if we could, then we would be able to increase our oil supplies at a time when they’re needed as much as possible. Now, right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down in the Gulf Coast. And today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done."
In his remarks, President Obama bragged that his administration has authorized enough gas pipelines to encircle the earth.
President Obama: "Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth and then some."
The U.S. Department of Justice has extended the authorized time period for government intelligence agencies to retain information about U.S. citizens, even those without known connection to terrorism cases. The Washington Post reports the changes will allow the National Counterterrorism Center to keep the information for up to five years. The guideline marks a sharp departure from the current rule, which bars intelligence officials from keeping information on U.S. citizens or residents, unless there’s a clear link to terrorism.
The U.N. Security Council has condemned the military coup in Mali and called for the restoration of civilian rule. Renegade soldiers ousted Mali President Amadou Toumani Touré, citing his handling of a rebellion by a militia in the northern part of the country. The soldiers say they have suspended the constitution and imposed a military curfew. Touré is reportedly being held in military barracks. United Nations Under-Secretary-General for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, called for Touré’s immediate release.
Lynn Pascoe: "There’s nothing particularly good that can come out of overturning an elected president about a month or six weeks before a new election is supposed to take place and putting the two main candidates in jail—or, not in jail, necessarily, but in a military barracks and holding them. So that this clearly is not the direction that we want to see West Africa or any other country to go in. We believe that strengthening democracy is absolutely critical, and we hope that—I think there’s strong consensus on that issue."
In Syria, activists say more than 40 people were killed Thursday in the Assad regime’s crackdown on the year-long uprising. Most of the killings reportedly occured in the provinces of Idlib and Homs.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has ordered a new investigation of how Israeli settlements are infringing on Palestinian rights. The United States was the lone country to oppose the probe. This week, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported a sharp rise in the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories. Of 105 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip, 37 were confirmed to be civilians.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is predicting the United States needs to prepare for heavy fighting during the upcoming year. General John Allen made the comment under questioning from Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Sen. John McCain: "So, basically, you have no opinion here, at the end of March of 2012, as to what our military presence would be in 2013?"
Gen. John Allen: "Well, my opinion at this particular juncture, but it’s not my recommendation."
Sen. John McCain: "What is your opinion at this particular juncture?"
Gen. John Allen: "My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013, sir."
Sen. John McCain: "Like 68,000?"
Gen. John Allen: "Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number sir, but I owe the President some analysis on that."
Tens of thousands of students rallied in the Canadian province of Quebec on Thursday in the largest demonstrations so far in a strike against planned tuition hikes. The government plan would increase tuition by 75 percent over the next five years. The largest rally came in Montreal, where a massive crowd of around 200,000 students took to the streets.
More than 130 protesters were arrested in Vermont Thursday calling for the immediate closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The Vermont Yankee’s state license expired this week under a vote from state lawmakers to shut it down last year. But the plant is still in operation after its parent company, Entergy Corporation, won an extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and later a federal court injunction. The Vermont Yankee facility is one of the oldest in the country and has had a series of radioactive tritium leaks. In addition to the 130 arrested at the Vermont Yankee, activists were also arrested in parallel rallies outside Entergy offices in White Plains, New York, and its headquarters in New Orleans.
The civil rights attorney John Payton has died at the age of 65. The president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Payton was recently named by the National Law Journal as one of the most influential civil rights attorneys of the past decade.