President Obama has ruled out a significant reduction of US troops in Afghanistan. In a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday, Obama rejected a US withdrawal and said he is still considering an assessment requesting up to 40,000 additional troops.
After the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers on both sides had agreed to support whatever decision Obama makes. Reid then appeared to immediately back off that statement after being questioned by a reporter.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “The one thing that I think was interesting is that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, said, 'Whatever decision you make, we’ll support it,' basically. So we’ll see.”
Reporter: “So that means if he wants 40,000 troops, that you would fund 40,000 troops?”
Sen. Reid: “Well, I think there was a general discussion there. I hope people aren’t talking in the abstract, saying whatever decision you make, we’ll support. That came from a minority.”
Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Counterterrorism Center outside Washington, where he vowed to pursue al-Qaeda.
President Obama: “It should now be clear. The United States and our partners have sent an unmistakable message: We will target al-Qaeda wherever they take root, we will not yield in our pursuit, and we are developing the capacity and the cooperation to deny a safe haven to any who threaten America and its allies.”
Today marks the eighth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan.
The Senate, meanwhile, has passed a $626 billion military and war funding bill by a 93-to-7 vote. The measure also includes a provision barring the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the United States.
In Iraq, at least nine people were killed Tuesday in a car bombing near the western city of Fallujah. Another thirty-one people were wounded.
In other news, the Washington Post is reporting four guards with the private military company DynCorp have fled Iraq after a confrontation with Iraqi troops. A DynCorp employee says Iraqi troops detained and abused the guards after stopping them at a Green Zone entrance. An Iraqi official said the confrontation escalated after one of the DynCorp guards struck the Iraqi captain in charge. The DynCorp employee says the guards were then badly beaten by Iraqi troops, a claim denied by Iraqi officials.
ABC News is reporting the US military could be speeding up plans for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The Pentagon recently won congressional approval to shift millions of dollars in defense spending toward development of a bunker-busting bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The bomb is designed to strike targets deep below ground. It’s said to have little use for military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan but would be ideal for striking underground Iranian facilities.
In Honduras, regional mediators are expected to hold talks today with representatives of the Honduran coup regime and the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The Organization of American States has sent a delegation comprised of officials from more than ten Latin and North American countries.
The Obama administration has unveiled new proposals for overhauling how immigration prisoners are jailed. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security said nonviolent immigration prisoners could be detained in converted hotels, nursing homes or given electronic ankle bracelets for monitoring. The department also says it plans to double the number of monitors overseeing conditions at government and privately run facilities. Civil liberties advocates have welcomed the proposal but called for a broader review of how immigration prisoners wind up behind bars. Judy Rabinovitz of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project said, “It’s not simply about where people are detained. It’s about how they ended up in detention and why they are staying there.”
The proposed reforms come as new government figures show a rising number of arrests of immigrants with no criminal records. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 60 percent of the 380,000 people arrested during the 2009 fiscal year were later turned over to immigration authorities. Fifty-seven percent of the more than 178,000 people sent through the Criminal Alien Program had no prior convictions. Sixty-five percent of those sent through the controversial 287(g) program also had no priors. The 287(g) program has been criticized for effectively allowing local police forces to act as federal immigration agents.
In other immigration news, the Obama administration has announced it’s curbing the powers of an Arizona sheriff who’s faced widespread accusations of racial profiling and discriminately enforcing federal immigration laws. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will no longer have the authority to arrest people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Maricopa County deputies will now only be allowed to determine immigration status when a prisoner has been jailed. Despite the new restrictions, Arpaio is vowing to continue pursuing undocumented workers under his authority as an elected sheriff.
Advocates for universal healthcare continue to stage rallies at the offices of insurance companies nationwide. On Tuesday, some fifty people protested outside the Philadelphia headquarters of the insurance giant CIGNA. Five people were arrested after blocking the building’s entrance. Among those detained was Joan Kosloff, who says she lost her uninsured son to a treatable case of meningitis. The protest was organized by the group Health Care for America Now. It came one day after more than 100 people rallied outside the Minnesota headquarters of the the nation’s largest private insurer, UnitedHealth Group. Six people were arrested after blocking the building’s doors. The protesters listed the names of friends and relatives who have struggled to receive healthcare. The Reverend Grant Stevenson helped lead the protest.
Rev. Grant Stevenson: “We’re at a crossroads, and I want to thank you for coming here and making this clear. I want to thank you for standing here and standing for the people who you’ve named on these sheets of paper. Stand for them. Stand for them today. Stand for them tomorrow. Stand for them until the members of the Congress understand that human beings are going to matter in this country, or we are in big trouble.”
The wireless providers AT&T and Verizon have announced they’ll no longer block internet-based phone services. The issue had come under recent scrutiny after the Federal Communications Commission proposed extending net neutrality rules to wireless networks.
A new study has found US banks charged customers around $24 billion in overdraft fees last year, a 35 percent increase from the year before. The Center for Responsible Lending says it expects to the number to grow by $3 billion in 2009.
And in Washington, DC, a city council member has introduced a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. The District of Columbia already recognizes gay marriages performed in states that permit them.