The Wall Street Journal reports the United States is planning to start funding local Afghan militias to fight the Taliban in remote parts of Afghanistan. The first US-funded militias will be established in Wardak Province in eastern Afghanistan. The plan is based on a similar model used in Iraq. If the effort in Wardak is successful, US commanders hope to create more militias in other parts of Afghanistan in early 2009. The militia push is controversial. Afghan President Hamid Karzai vetoed an earlier American proposal to create local militias, because he feared they might one day fall under the sway of regional warlords. Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay has publicly opposed the initiative saying it would be counterproductive.
A federal jury in New Jersey has convicted five Muslim immigrants of conspiracy to kill US military personnel. Prosecutors claimed the men were plotting to kill US soldiers at Fort Dix or another military base. Defense attorneys argued the men were entrapped by a pair of paid government informants. Faten Shnewer, the mother of one of the men, Mohamad Shnewer, talked to reporters after the verdict and said her son was set up. The five Muslim men were arrested in May 2007 after two of the men tried to buy automatic weapons from an FBI informant. The same informant had helped scout out military installations for attack, offered to introduce the men to an arms dealer and gave them a list of weapons he could procure, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The five men face life in prison.
The Associated Press has revealed that many of the nation’s largest banks are claiming they can’t track how they’re using the billions of dollars they have received in aid from US taxpayers. The Associated Press contacted twenty-one banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings? And what’s the plan for the rest? None of the banks provided specific answers. When Congress approved the massive bailout, it attached nearly no strings to the money, and the Treasury Department never asked the banks how it would be spent.
The Iraqi Parliament has delayed a vote on a resolution to allow British and other non-US forces to stay in the country beyond December 31, when the UN mandate expires. If an interim resolution is not passed before then, non-US troops would have no legal right to remain in Iraq. Britain still has about 4,000 troops in Iraq. It plans to withdraw all but 400 of its troops from Iraq by the end of July.
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush last week said through his lawyer that he will not apologize for his actions. Muntadhar al-Zaidi has been held in prison for over a week. His attorney said al-Zaidi has been subjected to repeated beatings in jail. He has internal bleeding in his left eye, as well as bruises over his face and stomach. On Monday, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto was asked about the treatment of Muntadhar al-Zaidi.
Journalist: "Tony, on another subject, is the White House at all concerned about reports by the brother of this Iraqi journalist who is being held for throwing his shoes at the President? His brother says, in visiting the journalist in jail, he sees signs he’s been tortured, missing a tooth, cigarette burns on his ears."
Tony Fratto: "He’s in the hands of the Iraqi system. I don’t have anything more on the shoe thrower. I think it’s been explored extensively, and I have nothing new for you."
The Washington Post reports European nations have begun intensive discussions both within and among their governments on whether to resettle prisoners from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay as an overture to the incoming Obama administration. At least half-a-dozen countries are considering resettlement, but only Germany and Portugal have publicly acknowledged it. Meanwhile, China said today it wants Chinese detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be returned to China if Guantanamo is closed. The US is holding seventeen Uyghurs — Muslims from western China. The seventeen have been cleared for release, but Washington fears they could be mistreated or even tortured if they are turned over to China. China says the seventeen men belong to an outlawed group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
In news from Africa, the military in Guinea has taken control of the mineral-rich West African country hours after the death of President Lansana Conte. Conte had ruled Guinea since 1984. Following his death, the army announced that it has dissolved the country’s government and suspended the constitution.
Doctors Without Borders has released its annual list of the world’s ten worst humanitarian crises. The list focuses on the massive forced civilian displacements, violence and unmet medical needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan, along with neglected medical emergencies in Burma and Zimbabwe. Also included in the list is the lack of global attention to the growing prevalence of HIV-tuberculosis co-infection and the critical need for increased global efforts to prevent and treat childhood malnutrition — the underlying cause of death for up to five million children per year.
A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Bush administration in an attempt to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from changing a rule that will make it easier for mountaintop mining companies to dump their waste near rivers and streams. Judith Petersen of Kentucky Waterways Alliance said, "The notion that coal mining companies can dump their wastes in streams without degrading them is a fantasy that the Bush administration is now trying to write into law.” The new rules overhaul a twenty-five-year-old prohibition that has sparked legal and regulatory battles for years.
In Utah, the US attorney’s office in Salt Lake City said Monday it has not decided yet whether to prosecute a University of Utah student who disrupted a controversial federal oil- and gas-lease auction Friday by posing as a bidder and buying nearly 22,000 acres of public land near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The student, Tim DeChristopher, appeared in court on Monday, but no charges were filed. A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office said, "It will take time to evaluate evidence and make a determination whether we will prosecute." On Monday, Tim DeChristopher told Democracy Now! he is ready to go to jail.
Tim DeChristopher: “I’ve seen the need for more serious action by the environmental movement and to protect a livable future for all of us. I’ve seen that need for a long time. And frankly, I’ve been hoping that someone would step up and someone would come out and be the leader and someone would put themselves on the line and make the sacrifices necessary to get us on a path to a more livable future. And I guess I just couldn’t wait any longer for that someone to come out there and had to accept the fact that that someone might be me.”
In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva paid tribute to environmentalist Chico Mendes on Monday on the twentieth anniversary of his murder. Mendes was one of the world’s most prominent defenders of the Amazon Rainforest. He was murdered on December 22, 1988 by ranchers opposed to his activism. Since his death, more than 1,100 activists and other rain forest defenders have been killed in Brazil. A new study by Brazil’s Catholic Land Commission has found that hundreds of Brazilian human rights and environmental activists still face the threat of assassination because of their fight against a coalition of loggers, farmers and cattle ranchers.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior is just as important as saving the rain forest from destruction. The Pope warned that gender theory blurred the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race.
Pope Benedict XVI: "We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as 'man' or 'woman' and asks that this order is respected. This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God."
Lesbian and gay Christians have denounced Pope Benedict’s comments. The Rev. Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement described the Pope’s remarks as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form." Ferguson said, “It is comments like that that justify homophobic bullying that goes on in schools, and it is comments like that that justify gay bashing.”
And the New York Times has apologized after publishing a fake letter to the editor Monday signed by the mayor of Paris denouncing Caroline Kennedy’s bid to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. The Times said the letter was a fake and that it was reviewing its procedures to verify letters.
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