Afghanistan is headed toward a second round of voting in its disputed presidential elections. On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai bowed to US pressure and accepted a UN panel’s findings that his August election victory was tainted by widespread fraud.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “The Independent Election Commission announced the second round of the election. We believe that this decision of the IEC is legitimate, legal and constitutional and that it strengthens the path towards democracy, and it is for the benefit of our nation.”
Karzai’s chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, praised the decision. The two will face off in a runoff vote next month. Karzai made the announcement after an intense round of meetings with a US delegation including Democratic Senator John Kerry.
Democratic Senator John Kerry: “President Karzai himself had serious questions about the process, but today he showed statesmanship by deciding to move forward and to strengthen the country by embracing the constitution and the rule of law.”
Back in Washington, President Obama also praised Karzai’s acknowledgment of election fraud.
President Obama: “President Karzai as well as the other candidates, I think, have shown that they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart, that this is a reflection of a commitment to rule of law and an insistence that the Afghan people’s will should be done.”
In other news from Afghanistan, the Pentagon has reversed a policy barring the publication of photos of US soldiers killed in combat. The ban was initially introduced last month after the Associated Press published a photo of a mortally wounded US Marine.
The Senate has voted to authorize the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners for prosecution inside the United States. On Tuesday, senators OKed the proposal as part of a $44 billion Homeland Security budget bill. The measure also backs the Obama administration’s refusal to release photos of prisoner abuse, saying the photos can be kept under wraps for three years. The House has already passed its version of the bill, which now goes to President Obama for his signature.
The top US military commander in Iraq is warning the Obama administration could delay its pledge to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011. Speaking to the Times of London, General Ray Odierno said the US could stay longer if Iraq fails to hold national elections early next year. The US has been pressuring Iraq to hold the election while also lobbying against a proposed referendum on whether to approve the US-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA. The agreement calls for a US withdrawal by the end of 2011. But if Iraqis reject the timetable, US troops would be forced to leave nearly a year earlier.
Israel is claiming it’s close to reaching a deal with the Obama administration that would allow for continued settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, said Israel would temporarily halt settlement construction instead of imposing a total freeze. Oren also says the Obama administration has given its assent to Israeli plans to complete ongoing settlement construction before the “halt” begins.
In other Mideast news, a Palestinian protester confronted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday as Blair visited the West Bank city of Hebron. Blair currently serves as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations. His appointment has been criticized for his record in office, which includes launching the invasion of Iraq along with former President George W. Bush. As Blair toured a Hebron mosque, the protester approached him and called him a “terrorist.”
In Iran, an Iranian American scholar has been sentenced to twelve years in prison for taking part in the protests against Iran’s disputed national elections. Kian Tajbakhsh was previously jailed in 2007 for four months on charges of espionage. The US is calling for Tajbakhsh’s immediate release.
In Nicaragua, a Supreme Court panel has cleared the way for Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to seek re-election after overturning a law on term limits. Opponents say the decision is illegal because it was approved only by members of Ortega’s Sandinista party.
Back in the United States, a new study says the US can no longer afford to continue carrying out the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center says states and local governments facing budget crises would benefit from replacing capital punishment with lifelong prison terms. The report says that since 1976 the death penalty has led to $2 billion in costs that wouldn’t otherwise have incurred had the harshest punishment been life in prison. A recent survey found that 57 percent of police chiefs nationwide believe the death penalty has done little to deter violent crimes.
A former State Department official has been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for doling out reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Richard Lopez Razo is believed to be the first State Department employee to face fraud charges in federal court in connection to the multi-billion-dollar US-funded Iraq reconstruction projects.
New figures show US college tuition continues to rise. According to the College Board, tuition at four-year colleges is up 6.5 percent at public schools and 4.4 percent at private ones. The rate increases were the highest tuition costs seen in over a decade. The average tuition at private colleges now tops $26,200, compared to just over $7,000 for public institutions.
In healthcare news, a new study has found that the uninsured are far more likely to have undiagnosed and under-treated medical conditions than those with coverage. Harvard University researchers found that half of uninsured people with diabetes were unaware of it, compared to just one-quarter of insured people who also didn’t know they had diabetes. The authors of the study say the disparities could help explain the findings of another recent study that found a lack of health insurance leads to around 45,000 deaths each year.
In California, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to end a policy that orders police officers to contact immigration agents whenever they arrest a youth who they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. Critics say the law had led to the deportation of innocent youths and deterred immigrants from reporting crimes.
And in New York, former police commissioner Bernard Kerik has been jailed ahead of three criminal trials on corruption, conspiracy and tax fraud charges. On Tuesday, Judge Stephen Robinson revoked Kerik’s bail and ordered him detained for allegedly releasing sealed information in an attempt to win public sympathy. A Kerik associate had sent the sealed material to the Washington Times in the hopes that news coverage would cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. In jailing Kerik, Judge Robinson described him as a “toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance.”