Sunni militants in Iraq have reportedly executed up to 190 captives in the northern city of Tikrit. Human Rights Watch reports the massacre took place earlier this month. The news comes as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces increasing pressure to resign for failing to unite the country or beat back gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Another round of 50 U.S. special operations troops have arrived in Iraq to act as "military advisers" on the crisis.
President Obama has asked Congress for $500 million to train and arm Syrian rebels. If approved, it would mark the most direct U.S. military role in the conflict to date, following more covert forms of support for the rebels. The request comes amidst growing concern about the influence of ISIS militants in both Iraq and Syria. Obama says the funds would go to "appropriately vetted" rebels who are fighting both President Bashar al-Assad and the ISIS militants.
The United Nations says the Syrian government is hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid. Addressing the Security Council, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said out of the more than 240,000 people under siege, the United Nations could only reach about 1 percent.
Valerie Amos: "Mr. President, in 2011 I told this council that one million people in Syria needed humanitarian assistance. That figure now stands at 10.8 million, 1.5 million more than there were just six months ago. The number of people in need in hard-to-reach areas now stands at 4.7 million, an increase of 1.2 million since Resolution 2139 was adopted in February."
Amos said some Syrian opposition groups have also hindered the delivery of aid by attacking or threatening humanitarian workers.
The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The law was passed in response to a history of harassment and violence, including the fatal shooting of two clinic workers in Massachusetts in 1994. The law was opposed by anti-choice protesters who gather outside clinics and attempt to convince patients not to have abortions. In a unanimous ruling, the court found the law was too broad, but it did not reject all abortion-clinic buffer zones, and left the door open for narrower protections. In a press call Thursday, Martha Walz, a former Massachusetts state legislator, now head of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said "the Supreme Court has taken away an essential measure to protect public safety and health care access in our state." Walz also raised the question of whether the Supreme Court’s own buffer zone may be unconstitutional, based on the ruling.
In a decision Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made by President Obama during a three-day Senate recess in 2012. The unanimous ruling severely restricts the ability of the president to make recess appointments in order to overcome congressional opposition. The decision could impact some 100 decisions made by the labor board while the appointees were serving.
Ukraine has signed a deal to strengthen ties with Europe, seven months after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted over his decision to back away from the pact. The deal comes as a fragile ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s east expires today. European leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss the Ukrainian crisis.
In Libya, a prominent human rights activist has been assassinated on the day of the country’s general election. Salwa Bugaighis was killed by gunmen who stormed her house in the city of Benghazi on Wednesday. In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesperson Marie Harf described her legacy in Libya.
Marie Harf: "She was a courageous woman and a true Libyan patriot. She was an advocate for political prisoners during the Gaddafi regime, an organizer of demonstrations against the regime during the February 17, 2011, revolution, a political activist and an original member of the Transitional National Council after the uprising began. Salwa resigned in protest over the absence of women’s voices in the council, but continued to play an active and powerful role supporting democracy, human rights and the participation of women in Libyan politics, until she was murdered on the day she and other Libyans went to the polls to elect a new government."
Marie Harf wore a "USA" sweatshirt during the press conference as the U.S. team faced Germany in the World Cup. The United States lost 0-1 but still advanced to the next round.
In Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official, says he has won the presidential election. The claim comes despite allegations by his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, that Ghani colluded with Afghan officials to steal the vote. Some 10,000 Abdullah supporters marched against the alleged fraud in Kabul today.
Canada’s Supreme Court has issued a landmark victory for First Nations who oppose the corporate exploitation of their land. In what has been hailed as the most significant indigenous rights case in Canadian history, the court gave the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to nearly 700 square miles of land in British Columbia. The ruling could apply to any ancestral lands that were not signed over in government treaties, including areas where the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline is slated to run.
Israel has identified two Hamas operatives as suspects in the alleged kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. The teens disappeared in the West Bank earlier this month. Israel has accused Hamas of abducting them, and has imposed a wide-ranging crackdown, arresting more than 370 Palestinians and killing six. In New York, peace activists, including Pam Sporn, rallied to denounce Israel’s actions.
Pam Sporn, Jewish Voice for Peace: "We called this emergency demonstration against the extreme violence that the Israeli government is raining down upon Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories on the pretext that three Israeli teenagers have been kidnapped. There’s been no concrete evidence that those teenagers have been kidnapped. But even if they have been, there is no reason for the collective punishment of millions of Palestinians. And certainly the kind of violence that is happening right now throughout the West Bank and Gaza will not bring those boys home to safety, wherever they might be."
A new report by former top government officials warns the Obama administration’s drone wars could "create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars." The report, released by the Stimson Center, does not call for an end to drone strikes, but it has drawn attention because of its authors, who include former Pentagon and CIA officials. The report criticizes the secrecy of the drone wars and concludes, "There is no indication that a U.S. strategy to destroy Al Qaeda has curbed the rise of Sunni Islamic extremism, deterred the establishment of Shia Islamic extremist groups or advanced long-term U.S. security interests."
The German government has cancelled its contract with the U.S. telecommunications firm Verizon amidst concerns over National Security Agency spying. Reports based on leaks by Edward Snowden revealed vast NSA spying in Germany, including on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Verizon provided services for German government agencies. But in a statement Thursday, Germany’s Interior Ministry said, "The links revealed between foreign intelligence agencies and firms after the NSA affair show that the German government needs a high level of security for its essential networks."
A U.S. military judge has upheld a ruling ordering the Obama administration to release tightly held secrets about the CIA’s covert prisons overseas. The government had appealed an April ruling ordering the CIA to release details about its treatment of USS Cole bombing suspect Abd al-Nashiri, including the names of personnel at the so-called "black sites" where he says he was tortured. But in a newly disclosed ruling, Judge James Pohl upheld his original decision calling for the information to be released to defense attorneys. The Obama administration could now decide to bring the case before a military appeals court rather than comply.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a measure to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017, the highest of any state in the country. The measure raises the current $8-an-hour minimum wage by a dollar each year. Patrick called the wage law "great progress," but pressed for more action, saying it was still "not a livable wage."
A U.S. judge has denied a request by Argentina to delay repayment of $1.65 billion in debts to U.S. hedge funds led by top Republican donor Paul Singer’s NML Capital. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the so-called "vulture funds," who bought up Argentina’s debt at bargain rates after the country’s financial crisis. While 92 percent of Argentina’s creditors agreed to slash the value of their holdings following the country’s default, the hedge funds refused to do so. On Thursday, a U.S. judge refused to extend a Monday deadline for Argentina to pay the hedge funds, despite Argentina’s claim the payments could tank the economy. Argentina’s economy minister, Axel Kicillof, condemned the decision.
Axel Kicillof: "There is no doubt about the bias of the judge in favor of the vulture funds, nor their true intention, that of trying to bring the Republic of Argentina to default and ruining the 2005-to-2010 restructuring that was reached after lengthy negotiations and a consensus of 92.4 percent."
NBC has responded to a Planned Parenthood petition over its handling of an ad for the film "Obvious Child" that mentioned the word abortion. More than 13,000 people signed the petition protesting reports NBC rejected the ad. In a statement, NBC said it has "no policy against accepting ads that include the word 'abortion,'" but acknowledged "feedback was mistakenly given to remove the word 'abortion'" from a video ad submitted for NBC’s digital platforms. NBC said it would accept the digital ad "as it was originally submitted." As of today, "Obvious Child" is airing in nearly 200 theaters across the United States. Click here to watch our interview with director Gillian Robespierre.