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Amnesty International is accusing the Syrian government of crimes against humanity and deliberately targeting civilian areas linked to support for opposition rebels. In a new report, Amnesty says its researchers collected evidence from 23 villages and towns of indiscriminate killings by government forces and affiliated militias. Amnesty adviser Donatella Rovera said civilians are enduring massive brutality.
Donatella Rovera: "The civilian population is very much on the receiving end, getting caught in the conflict and being, quite frankly, mercilessly targeted by government forces who have been pounding towns and villages, going into people’s homes, taking young men out of the houses and executing them in front of their families and burning down their homes."
In its report, Amnesty renewed its call for an arms embargo on Syria and for the Security Council to refer the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court.
U.S. officials are backing off claims Russia has sent new shipments of attack helicopters to aid the Syrian regime’s crackdown on opposition rebels. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of supplying the aircraft in what amounted to the harshest U.S. criticism of Russia’s Syria ties to date. But on Wednesday, the Obama administration acknowledged the helicopters had likely been sent back from Syria to Russia for routine repairs months ago and were now just being returned. A senior Pentagon official told the New York Times that Clinton "put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position." In response to Clinton’s initial comments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of hypocrisy, saying: "We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in struggle with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such equipment to this region." Despite the partial retraction, Clinton continued with her criticism of Russia on Wednesday.
Hillary Clinton: "Russia says it wants peace and stability restored. It says it has no particular love lost for (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad. And it also claims to have vital interests in the region and relationships that it wants to continue to keep. They put all of that at risk if they do not move more constructively right now. And I would emphasize that the United States has provided no military support to the Syrian opposition. None."
A Bahrain appeals court has convicted nine medics who were part of an original group of 20 sentenced last year for treating demonstrators during anti-government protests. The former senior medic at Bahrain’s top hospital was sentenced to five years in prison, while the eight others received sentences ranging from one month to three years. Nine other medics of the original 20 had their verdicts dismissed. The prosecution of the medics and their torture while in custody has been widely criticized. In a statement, the U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights said: "It is a travesty of justice that the trials continued and that the medics are now sentenced to jail time."
The Washington Post is reporting the U.S. is dramatically expanding covert spying operations across the continent of Africa, creating a network of air bases to help monitor and target militants. As part of the effort, the U.S. is reportedly deploying small, unarmed aircraft disguised as private planes that record video and intercept radio and cellphone signals. The spying is overseen by U.S. Special Operations forces but also involves both African troops and private military contractors. The operation comes as part of the Obama administration’s expanded use of Special Operations forces in secretive efforts to monitor and even kill militants around the world.
Egypt’s ruling military government has expanded the powers of state forces to detain civilians just days ahead of the country’s runoff election. In a joint statement, more than a dozen Egyptian rights groups said the decree effectively reimposes martial law and reinforces suspicion the upcoming transfer of power to a civilian government "will only be phony and won’t prevent the military from remaining a major player in political life."
Ahmed Shafik, who served as prime minister under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, will square off against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in this weekend’s runoff vote. A court is ruling today on whether Shafik is eligible to run under a law banning Mubarak-era officials. The law was passed in April, but a lower court later ruled parts of it were unconstitutional. Egyptian activists meanwhile have unveiled a campaign to boycott the vote, calling it a false choice under ongoing military rule. Boycott organizer Tarek Shalaby said Egypt’s military rulers have effectively rigged the election to ensure their continued dominance.
Tarek Shalaby: "They’re trying to show us that there’s no other way for the revolution to continue except for collaborating with SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in these elections that they’ve made for us. And obviously they make these elections customized specifically for them, so that the result that comes out, whatever it is and whoever it is, works perfectly for them. And that’s why what we need to do is we need to reject these elections, refuse to collaborate with them, and make sure that we organize ourselves."
At least three people have been killed in a U.S. drone attack in the Pakistani town of Miranshah in North Waziristan. Pakistani officials say the attack targeted militants in a central market.
The drone strikes have continued as the U.S. and Pakistan remain at odds over the reopening of NATO supply routes for the war in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Pakistan’s closure is costing the U.S. an additional $100 million a month. The talks have stalemated over a number of issues including the U.S. refusal to apologize for an air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops last year. In Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar denied claims that a Pakistani demand for higher tariffs on the routes is preventing an agreement.
Hina Rabbani Khar: "Pakistan is not in any sort of a price-gouging debate right now. So these impressions are indeed incorrect and and must be dispersed as soon as possible. We are — as we said, the U.S. side knows very well as to what are the needs and requirements for us to enable us to move in that direction, to enable us to take that decision (to reopen the routes). So I would like to keep it at that."
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon appeared before lawmakers on Wednesday for the first time since his bank lost $3 billion in a risky speculative bet. Dimon apologized for the loss but failed to explain how it occurred. He was repeatedly confronted by protesters over the course of the hearing.
Protester: "This man is a criminal, and people need to shout out about this man and 18 other cronies that have been stealing near-zero-interest loans from the people, when the small businesses can’t get the same loans, when the people are deprived loans to get into their — to keep their houses, when people are being thrown out on the streets. "
The billionaire casino mogul and right-wing donor Sheldon Adelson has thrown his financial support behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. Adelson and his wife have donated $10 million to the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, in the past few days. Adelson initially supported Newt Gingrich during the Republican primary, giving a pro-Gingrich super PAC more than $20 million. His support prompted Gingrich to adopt an even harsher anti-Palestinian stance, declaring Palestinians are an invented people. Adelson has said he could wind up spending around $100 million to support Republican candidates in the 2012 race. He’s already spent around $35 million.
Ironically, the donation by Gingrich’s former backer to Romney came just as Gingrich himself openly complained that U.S. elections are rigged in favor of the wealthy. Gingrich was speaking in an appearance on MSNBC.
Newt Gingrich: "It’s very hard to compete with a billionaire, if they get to spend all the money they want and the middle-class candidate’s raising money in $2,500 units. So I think the current system is rigged, frankly, in favor of the wealthy.”
A New York police officer was indicted on manslaughter charges Wednesday for the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teen who was killed in his own home. Eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot at close range on February 2 after being chased by narcotics officers. Graham was trying to empty a bag of marijuana into the toilet before he was killed. On Wednesday, the indicted officer, Richard Haste, pleaded not guilty to charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in a Bronx courtroom. He was released on $50,000 bail. After the hearing, Ramarley Graham’s parents, Constance Malcolm and Frank Graham, spoke out.
Constance Malcolm: "Ramarley was only 18. We have too much of this going on, and it has to stop. We need — we need this to stop. We can’t keep killing our kids. It has to stop. Something has to come out of this."
Frank Graham: "I keep asking why, why, why did he — why did he kill our son? Why? Why? Why did he kill our son? Eighteen years old. Eighteen. He did nothing to deserve this."
Several accused members of the prominent Mexican drug cartel the Zetas have been arrested in the U.S. over allegations of laundering millions of dollars in drug money through a horse breeding operation based in Oklahoma. Some horses allegedly owned by cartel gang members have won millions of dollars in racing prizes.
Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a measure that would create the nation’s first "Homeless Bill of Rights." The legislation would formally ban discrimination against homeless people and support their right to equal access to jobs, housing and government services. Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign the measure into law as early as next week.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering a plan to restrict the controversial gas drilling practice known as fracking in the state. The plan would limit fracking to economically struggling parts of New York along the Pennsylvania border and allow it only in communities that express support. More than 100 communities in New York have approved bans or moratoriums on fracking, which involves blasting a mix of sand, water and chemicals into rock formations in order to extract natural gas. Some environmental justice advocates criticized Cuomo’s plan, saying it would send an environmentally polluting industry into the most impoverished communities. Activist and writer Sandra Steingraber said in a statement: "Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea." New York state regulators are expected to approve fracking in the coming months.