Two human rights groups have released major new reports on how U.S. drone strikes kill civilians in Yemen and Pakistan. Amnesty International focused on Pakistan, where it says some drone killings may amount to war crimes. The group reviewed 45 drone strikes that have occurred in North Warizistan since January 2012. It found at least 19 civilians were killed in just two of those strikes, despite claims by the Obama administration it is accurately targeting militants. In one case, a 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was killed in a strike that appeared to be aimed directly at her. She was picking okra while surrounded by her grandchildren when she was blasted to pieces. Her son and granddaughter described the attack.
Rafiq ur-Rehman: "The children were also with her. She was hit in the first attack, and her body parts were lying scattered."
Nabeela: "First it whistled. Then I heard a 'dhummm.' The first hit us, and the second, my cousin. There was an explosion. We were scared, and I ran home. It was dark in front of our house. They brought me to the doctor in the village who gave me first aid. I was not scared before, but now, when the drone is flying, I am scared of it."
Amnesty International reports that in July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed by multiple strikes as they were about to eat their evening meal. While official claims called the victims "terrorists," Amnesty found they were not involved in fighting. Amnesty also documented cases of "rescuer attacks" where those rushing to the aid of drone victims are targeted by a second strike. Amnesty’s Pakistan researcher, Mustafa Qadri, said drones have terrified the Pakistani people.
Mustafa Qadri: "At the end of the day, when we researched these cases, we found people were fearful of the U.S. the way they’re fearful of the Taliban. That really is a great tragedy. You know, what’s really important is that we don’t forget human rights when we’re trying to protect our societies. People have told us they’re taking sleeping tablets at night. They don’t know when they’re going to be targeted, if they’ll be targeted, why they’ll be targeted. That really is a shocking situation."
In a second report released today, Human Rights Watch reviewed six U.S. air strikes in Yemen that killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians. They include a drone-assisted attack that unlawfully struck a passenger van in 2012, killing 12 civilians; the target was nowhere near the vehicle. A farmer told Human Rights Watch the strike killed his father, mother and 10-year-old sister. "Their bodies were charred like coal — I could not recognize the faces," he said. Human Rights Watch also reviewed the 2009 U.S. cruise missile strike in the village of al-Majalah that killed more than 40 civilians, most of them women and children, and another attack last year that killed a cleric, who preached against al-Qaeda, as well as his cousin and a police officer. Human Rights Watch said strikes against civilians have violated international law and sparked a backlash that undermines the campaign against al-Qaeda. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration to reveal its full legal rationale for the strikes and investigate the killings detailed in their reports.
President Obama spoke by phone Monday with French President François Hollande in a bid to alleviate tensions over a report that revealed massive spying by the National Security Agency in France. In a statement after the call, the White House said the pair had "discussed recent disclosures in the press — some of which have distorted our activities, and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed." Mexico, meanwhile, said it would send a diplomatic note to the United States demanding an investigation into spying on its officials following a report the NSA hacked the email account of then-President Felipe Calderón in 2010.
President Obama defended his signature healthcare law Monday following weeks of technical failures that have prevented many people from signing up. Obama declined to say how many people have actually been able to enroll through the online exchanges since they opened three weeks ago. But he admitted there have been technical roadblocks.
President Obama: "The problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody. There’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am, precisely because the product is good."
Obama urged people to call the government’s toll-free number to apply for health insurance, although he acknowledged wait times on the line may now increase.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dampened hopes for international talks on the Syrian crisis late next month in Geneva. In a prerecorded interview with a Lebanese TV station, Assad said no date has been chosen for the talks.
President Bashar al-Assad: "There is no date, and there is no factors that help in holding it now if we want it to succeed. Meaning, who are the parties participating in Geneva? What is the relation of these forces to the Syrian people? Are they forces representing the Syrian people or forces representing the countries that made it?"
Assad also said he sees no barriers to running for re-election next year. The interview aired on Monday, exactly two months after the chemical attack in Ghouta that raised the immediate prospect of U.S. air strikes before an international deal was reached to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal. Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats are meeting with Syrian opposition members today in London.
In Nevada, a student opened fire at Sparks Middle School Monday, killing a math teacher and wounding two fellow students. The unidentified shooter then killed himself. Police said the teacher, Michael Landsberry, was trying to protect students. The news came the same day Attorney General Eric Holder said the average number of mass shootings in the United States has tripled since 2009. Speaking to a conference of police chiefs, Holder said the United States saw an average of five "active shooter incidents" every year between 2000 and 2008, compared to at least 12 so far this year.
In a lesser-reported shooting in Detroit, two women were killed at a senior home Sunday on the city’s southwest side. Police say the victims, Deborah Socia and Maria Gonzalez, were friends with another woman who had just ended a relationship with the alleged gunman.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has dropped the state’s legal challenge against same-sex marriage. His decision Monday morning came just hours after same-sex couples in New Jersey began marrying at midnight. On Friday, the state Supreme Court rejected Christie’s request to delay the weddings while he appealed. But on Monday, Christie dropped the appeal, saying he will enforce the law as determined by the court. New Jersey is the 14th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow same-sex marriages.
Firefighters in New South Wales, Australia, are battling the area’s worst bushfires in decades. The Sydney Morning Herald reports firefighters are facing an active fire edge that stretches more than 900 miles. They are also facing hot, windy conditions that have fueled more than 60 fires, which in some cases have consumed more than 20 miles in a single day. A spokesperson for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said dry weather has worsened conditions.
Joel Kursawe: "We’re coming out of very dry winter. We haven’t had a lot of rain for many months. And we’re only in October. We’re not yet into summer. So we still have quite a few months before we reach the very hot months in summer. That’s what’s obviously very concerning for us, because we’re still only in spring and we’re seeing fires like this with so much destruction."
In Qatar, the top court has upheld a 15-year jail sentence for a poet convicted of incitement against the regime. Mohammed al-Ajami was arrested in November 2011 for allegedly disparaging members of Qatar’s ruling family in a poem. But activists say the real motivation was his poem "Tunisian Jasmine," in which he expressed support for the Arab Spring uprisings, writing, "We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites." Al-Ajami was initially dealt a life term, but that was reduced to 15 years in February. His lawyer said he has been held in solitary confinement for two years. Al-Ajami’s only recourse now is to appeal to the emir. Click here to see our interview from Qatar with Mohammed Al-Ajami’s lawyer.
Transit workers in the California Bay Area say they have reached a tentative deal to end a four-day strike. A union proposal released Sunday would allow changes to some work rules but retain those protecting worker safety. The offer came a day after two workers were struck and killed by a BART train. On Monday, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said the operator was a trainee. Union officials had previously filed suit to stop BART from training managers to potentially operate trains during the strike, saying the practice was unsafe.
In a victory for fracking opponents in New Brunswick, Canada, a court has denied a request by Southwestern Energy for a permanent injunction to prevent protests against its bid to explore for gas. Area residents, including many with the Mi’kmaq First Nation, had blocked a road for more than two weeks to disrupt the company’s efforts. They say fracking, which involves blasting chemicals deep into rock, would pollute their water. The company claimed the blockade cost them $60,000 per day. Last week, more than 100 police descended on the encampment near the village of Rexton, sparking clashes that resulted in at least 40 arrests and the torching of five police vehicles. Monday’s court ruling allows protests to continue. Meanwhile, on Saturday anti-fracking actions took place in hundreds of cities across more than 25 countries as part of the second "Global Frackdown."
Lorraine Miller, who served as the first African-American officer of the House of Representatives, has been named interim president and CEO of the NAACP, replacing Ben Jealous. Miller became House clerk in 2007 after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped her for the post. Miller was a top adviser to Pelosi and has also worked for other top Democrats, including Rep. John Lewis.