Obama: U.S. to End Afghan Occupation in 2016

President Obama has announced the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan will continue until the end of 2016. On Tuesday, Obama said that the United States will maintain almost 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after its formal combat mission concludes at the end of this year. The United States will eventually withdraw troops until only a small residual force remains after 2016.

President Obama: "At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. servicemembers in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we’ll have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq."

By the time the United States fully withdraws, the war will have lasted more than 15 years — the longest in U.S. history.

Thousands Gather for Shooting Vigil at U.C. Santa Barbara

Thousands of people have gathered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a day of mourning for the victims of Friday’s shooting and stabbing rampage. Elliot Rodger killed six people and then himself after posting a video online saying he was seeking revenge against all women for rejecting his sexual advances. UC Santa Barbara students joined together to remember their classmates.

Rebekkah Scharf: "I know it hit home for some students here, and I felt like we needed a space to recognize that."

Jimmy Tran: "When one part of the body hurts like we all hurt, and like if UC Santa Barbara is going through this tragedy, like we’re going through it, too."

Father of Slain Victim Urges Pressure on Congress for Gun Control

The shooter in the University of California, Santa Barbara, killings had three semiautomatic handguns, all purchased legally. The father of one of the slain victims is now vowing to continue speaking out in favor of gun control. Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son Christopher was killed, made headlines immediately following the attack after calling out the National Rifle Association and politicians who stand in the way of gun reform. On Tuesday, Martinez said he rejects condolences from lawmakers, saying: "I don’t care about your sympathy. … Get to work and do something." Martinez says he is calling on all Americans to send a postcard to Congress demanding the passage of gun reform laws. Speaking at Tuesday’s memorial, Martinez read a letter from another grieving parent.

Richard Martinez: "My dearest son Weihan David: Mom and Dad are very proud of you. Your sacrifices weren’t in vain. Your sacrifice will wake the power and authority of America. It’s time to stop the gun violence. Our children deserve a land free from fear. Son, you will be at peace in the hands of God."

According to the Gun Violence Archive, firearms have killed more than 4,100 people in the United States since January 1 of this year.

Obama Delays Deportation Policy Review to Prod GOP on Immigration Reform

President Obama is delaying a review of his administration’s controversial deportation practices until after the summer. Obama had ordered U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to look into legal ways to scale back deportations amid rising pressure from civil rights groups who have dubbed him the "deporter-in-chief." Proposals have included limiting the deportations of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records, who account for some two-thirds of the two million people Obama has deported. But the White House now says Obama wants to put off any potential reforms to avoid angering House Republicans and dooming chances of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year. House Republicans have refused to take up immigration reform despite the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan measure offering a path to citizenship, one year ago next month. A top White House adviser says Obama plans to give Republicans one more chance to negotiate a compromise measure.

Ukraine in Control of Donetsk Airport Following Deadly Clashes

Ukraine says it has taken control of the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk following fierce clashes with separatist rebels. The Ukrainian government says 48 people were killed, nearly all rebel fighters. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has announced it has lost contact with four monitors who were in Donetsk during the airport standoff. The violence followed Ukraine’s election of billionaire candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko in the country’s first presidential vote since the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych.

Dozens Killed in New Boko Haram Attack; Ex-President Reportedly Involved in Kidnap Talks

More than 30 people have been killed in the Boko Haram’s latest attack in Nigeria. Militants struck a military base in the state of Yobe, killing dozens of government forces. The attack comes amidst rumors of talks between government and Boko Haram representatives over freeing the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has reportedly met with figures close to the Boko Haram. The Nigerian government has ruled out formal talks but has not denied that some form of discussion is underway. The head of Nigeria’s military has said the military now knows where the abducted girls are being held, but has ruled out using force to rescue them for fear of endangering their lives.

Hacker Turned Informant "Sabu" Avoids More Prison Time

A computer hacker who led a series of cyber-attacks on governments and corporations before turning FBI informant has avoided more time in prison. Hector Xavier Monsegur, known by his alias "Sabu," walked free on Tuesday after being sentenced to time served, the seven months he has spent behind bars. Sabu was once a key member of Anonymous and LulzSec, launching cyber-attacks that caused an estimated $50 million worth of damage. But he later turned on his cybercomrades. Working for the FBI, Sabu allegedly directed his friends to carry out more cyber-attacks while feeding investigators enough incriminating evidence to indict them. Defense attorney Peggy Cross-Goldenberg said Sabu hopes to put his past behind him.

Peggy Cross-Goldenberg: "It has been a long and hard three years for Mr. Monsegur. We’re very pleased that the judge recognized both what an extraordinary person he is and the extraordinary efforts that he has gone through in the past three years to turn his life around and to make up for his conduct and really to, as she said, use his skills to do good. Those who know him know that he is a smart, diligent, loyal, hardworking person, and Mr. Monsegur and his family are looking forward to putting this behind them and moving on with their lives to do good things."

Sabu also played a key role in the government’s arrest of computer hacker Jeremy Hammond, who was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers of the private intelligence firm Stratfor. Hammond has accused Sabu and the FBI of using him to attack the webpages of foreign governments.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Law Restricting Death Row Challenges for Mentally Disabled

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a law that limited how death row prisoners can prove they are mentally disabled. Federal law bans the execution of the mentally impaired. The law said prisoners must have an IQ below 70 before being allowed to present any additional evidence to prove their case. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled the law violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Conyers Back on Primary Ballot After Signature Mishap

Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has won a place on his district’s upcoming primary ballot after facing the threat of exclusion. The Wayne County elections clerk had initially ruled Conyers was not eligible for the primary because his campaign failed to collect enough valid signatures and one of his staffers was not properly registered to vote. But a federal judge has ruled the missteps by Conyers’ staff were the result of "good-faith mistakes," wrongly believing they were in compliance. First elected in 1964, Conyers is the House’s second-longest-serving incumbent.

Snowden Gives First TV Interview to U.S. Network

The National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has spoken out in his first interview with an American television network. Speaking to NBC News anchor Brian Williams, Snowden rejected government attempts to dismiss his views by painting him as a "low-level analyst."

Edward Snowden: "What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels, from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things; they might frame it in certain ways and say, 'Oh, well, you know, he's a low-level analyst.’ But what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience, which is that I’ve worked for the Central Intelligence Agency undercover overseas, I’ve worked for the National Security Agency undercover overseas, and I’ve worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as a lecturer at the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy, where I developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world. So when they say I’m a low-level systems administrator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d say it’s somewhat misleading."

The full interview airs Wednesday night on NBC in a one-hour special.

Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: Bush Committed War Crimes

In a Democracy Now! exclusive, the nation’s former top counterterrorism official has said he believes President George W. Bush is guilty of war crimes for launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Richard Clarke served as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism during President Bush’s first year in office. He resigned in 2003 following the Iraq invasion and later made headlines by accusing Bush officials of ignoring pre-9/11 warnings about an imminent attack by al-Qaeda. On Tuesday, Clarke spoke to Democracy Now! in an interview that will air next week.

Amy Goodman: "Do you think President Bush should be brought up on war crimes [charges], and Vice President Cheney and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld, for the attack on Iraq?"

Richard Clarke: "I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes. Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did — in my mind, at least, it’s clear that some of the things they did were war crimes."

Tune in to Democracy Now! next week for our full interview.


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