Wardak Residents March for Withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Afghanistan

Hundreds of residents of the Afghan province of Wardak rallied in Kabul over the weekend to protest the continued presence of U.S. forces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has banned U.S. special forces from Wardak amidst allegations of the disappearances of nine Afghan civilians. The U.S. military appears to have ignored the ban, prompting a march by Wardak residents on the Afghan parliament.

Khalilullah Ibrahimkhail: "We have gathered here to protest against the special forces in Wardak. They enter people’s houses and torture innocent people. They have also detained 10 people, and it is not clear what has happened to them."

Obama Admin Drops Europe Missile Plan, Reorients to North Korea

The Obama administration has altered the U.S. missile defense program to focus more on North Korea. On Friday, the Pentagon announced it would abandon plans to complete a missile shield in Europe and instead install North Korea-aimed interceptors. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the plans in Washington.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "Today I’m announcing a series of steps the United States will take to stay ahead of the challenge posed by Iran and North Korea’s development of longer-range ballistic missile capabilities. The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations."

The move reverses a decision to stop the expansion of a missile field at Alaska’s Fort Greely, adding 14 new interceptors. It will also see the deployment of a second missile defense radar in Japan. The plans for a U.S. missile system in Europe have long stoked tensions with Russia. Despite dropping plans for staging missile interceptors in eastern Europe, the United States still plans to complete a land-based missile shield program in Central Europe.

EU Bailout Terms Spark Panic in Cyprus

A European Union bailout plan is sparking wide financial panic in Cyprus. The EU is demanding Cyprus impose an across-the-board, one-time tax on all Cypriot bank deposits as a condition for $13 billion in rescue money. The plan led to massive bank withdrawals over the weekend as Cypriots rushed to protect their savings. Government ministers now say they are crafting an alternative plan before a vote on the bailout terms.

Ohio High Schoolers Convicted in Rape Trial

Two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party last August. On Sunday, the teenagers, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were convicted of sexually assaulting the victim, who witnesses testified was too drunk to move or speak. The case sparked a national controversy following the emergence of images and social media postings from the night of the assault, including one picture of the defendants holding the victim over a basement floor.

Oil-Linked Firms Provided Research for State Dept.’s Keystone XL Review

A State Department review that could help clear the way for the Keystone XL oil pipeline was based, in part, on research conducted by two firms with ties to big oil companies and even a potential financial interest in the project’s approval. According to Inside Climate News, the section of the report concluding the Keystone XL’s completion would not impact the rate of development in Canada’s oil sands was based on analysis by the companies EnSys Energy and ICF International. EnSys’ client list includes ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, both of which have financial ties to the extraction of tar sands oil. The companies’ research challenges environmentalists’ argument that building the Keystone XL would lead to additional extraction of tar sands oil and the release of dangerous levels of carbon into the atmosphere.

White House Spokesperson Downplays Keystone XL Pipeline’s Impact

The State Department review marked a major boost to the Keystone XL pipeline’s chances as President Obama nears a decision in the coming weeks. On Friday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest rejected fears the Keystone XL would have a devastating impact on the environment. Speaking on Air Force One, Earnest said: "Thousands of miles of pipelines have been built since President Obama took office inside the U.S., and it hasn’t had a measurable impact on climate change."

Report: Obama Admin Mulls Delay of Emissions Cap for Power Plants

The Obama administration is reportedly planning on delaying the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a plan last year that would force new power plants to keep emissions under 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of electricity. But The Washington Post reports the White House may seek to rewrite the rule, significantly delaying its implementation and potentially watering it down by allowing laxer standards for coal-fired plants. Environmentalists had already criticized the plan for exempting existing plants and allowing a number of loopholes.

Appeals Court: CIA Can’t Ignore FOIA Requests on Drone Strikes

A federal appeals court has ruled the CIA cannot ignore information requests on its targeted killing program based on state secrecy. On Friday, the D.C. Circuit appeals court reversed a lower-court ruling dismissing an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to obtain information on the killings through the Freedom of Information Act. The ruling means the CIA must disclose parts of its records on drone strikes at least to a judge. In a statement, the ACLU said: "[This ruling] requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret. It will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis."

Federal Judge Rules National Security Letters Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled the FBI’s use of national security letters is unconstitutional. The decision by Judge Susan Illston of Federal District Court in San Francisco comes in the case of an unnamed telecom firm ordered by the government to provide subscriber information. Through the national security letters, the FBI can order businesses to provide information on their customers without any judicial review and without the customers’ knowledge. In her ruling, Judge Illston wrote that the letters create "too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted." The ruling has been put on hold pending a Justice Department appeal.

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Death Penalty Ban

State lawmakers in Maryland have given final approval to a ban on the death penalty. The measure would replace death sentences with life terms without the chance of parole. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign it into law next month, making Maryland the 18th state to ban executions. In a statement, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, which helped lead a grassroots effort for the bill’s passage, said: "Today we accomplished a milestone that [we have] worked toward for more than a century. ... Tomorrow we will wake up in a state where we will never again have to worry if someone is put to death because of their color, class, or in spite of their innocence."

NYPD Officers in Kimani Gray Death Previously Sued for Civil Rights Violations

The officers behind the shooting death of 16-year-old Brooklyn teenager Kimani Gray have previously been sued for violations of civil rights. The officers, who were not in uniform, shot Gray after following him on a street. They claim Gray had a gun, but one witness has said he was unarmed, and another has said he may not have known he was being approached by police. The New York Daily News reports New York City has paid more than $215,000 to settle five lawsuits in total against Sgt. Mourad Mourad and Officer Jovaniel Cordova. The allegations ranged from illegal stop-and-frisks to one client who said he was punched in the face and needed stitches. A lawyer who filed four of the cases said Mourad and Cordova attempted to "cover up their misconduct by falsifying and fabricating evidence." Gray’s shooting death has sparked several consecutive nights of protests in Brooklyn.

North Dakota Lawmakers Approve 6-Week Abortion Ban

North Dakota lawmakers have passed what could become the strictest anti-abortion law in the country, banning abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, or possibly even earlier, as soon as an embryonic heartbeat can be detected by a transvaginal ultrasound. The bill would ban abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy at a time when many women have not even realized they are pregnant. The vote in North Dakota comes roughly a week after Arkansas banned abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy. In addition to the six-week ban, North Dakota lawmakers passed a measure that would make it the first state to ban abortions sought because the fetus has a genetic abnormality. Both bills would need the signature of Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

JPMorgan Chase Execs Testify on "London Whale" Losses

Executives with the banking giant JPMorgan Chase appeared before a Senate panel on Friday to answer questions around the so-called "London Whale" trades that cost the bank more than $6 billion and derailed financial markets worldwide. A Senate probe last week accused JPMorgan Chase of misleading the public, manipulating documents and ignoring warnings from within its own ranks as the losses piled up. Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Arizona Senator John McCain said JPMorgan had acted recklessly.

Sen. Carl Levin: "We took a closer look, and it isn’t pretty: a massive derivatives portfolio riddled with risk, a runaway train of derivatives trading — a runaway train of derivatives trading, blowing through risk limits, hidden losses, bank executives downplaying the bad bets, regulators who failed to act."

Sen. John McCain: "It is unsettling that a group of traders made reckless decisions with federally insured money and that all of this was done with the full awareness of top officials at JPMorgan. This bank appears to have entertained, indeed embraced, the idea that it was, quote, 'too big to fail.'"

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was not among the executives to testify before the committee. Former chief investment officer Ina Drew, who was tasked with overseeing the bank’s trades, blamed subordinates for providing misleading information.

Ina Drew: "Ultimately, my oversight of this synthetic credit book was undermined by two critical facts that I have come to learn only recently based on the company’s public statements. First, the company’s new VaR model was flawed and significantly understated the real risks in the book that were reported to me. And second, some members of the London team failed to value positions properly and in good faith. They minimized reported and projected losses and hid from me important information regarding the true risks of the book."

Massive Procession Concludes Mourning Period for Hugo Chávez

Venezuela has wrapped up its 10-day mourning period for the late President Hugo Chávez. On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Caracas as Chávez’s remains were brought to the military museum where he launched his political career more than 20 years ago. The Venezuelan government had vowed to embalm Chávez’s body and put it on permanent display, but it may have to abandon those plans because the process began too late.

Vigils in Olympia and Rafah Mark 10-Year Anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s Killing

Saturday marked the 10-year anniversary of the killing of the U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie. A 23-year-old college student, Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza on March 16, 2003. She was standing in front of a Palestinian home to help prevent its demolition. An Israeli court rejected a wrongful death suit brought by Corrie’s family last year, saying Corrie was at fault for her own death. On Saturday, vigils were held in Corrie’s hometown of Olympia, Washington, and in Rafah, where she was killed. In a video statement, Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, urged supporters to pressure the Obama administration to drop its backing of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Cindy Corrie: "Tell President Obama that he must insist that our funding not be used for home demolitions, for settlement building and for oppression of a civilian population. Tell President Obama that our tax dollars must be used lawfully in the name of peace, rather than to fuel conflict. And tell President Obama that equality, equal rights for Palestinians, is the path to peace."

President Obama heads to Israel on Wednesday.


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