President Obama has unveiled his plan to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan in the coming months. Obama gave his long-awaited speech before a crowd of 4,000 cadets at the US military academy in West Point.
President Obama: “As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. After eighteen months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.”
The move will bring the total number of US troops occupying Afghanistan to over 100,000 — more than half of them deployed since Obama took office.
As Obama spoke, six peace activists were arrested at the gates outside West Point after blocking a road leading into the base. The group included the war resister Sgt. Matthis Chiroux of Iraq Veterans Against the War. We’ll have more on Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war after headlines.
In Honduras, lawmakers are expected to begin debate today on whether to restore the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. But it’s unclear if Zelaya would even accept if the Honduran Congress backs his return. The Congress was initially supposed to vote on Zelaya’s restoration before the national elections that were held earlier this week. But Zelaya would only have a limited time back in office until his term expires next month. On Tuesday, Zelaya aide Carlos Reina said the Honduran president should be allowed to finish serving his full term.
Carlos Reina: “We call for democratic order to be restored and for the immediate reinstatement of President José Manuel Zelaya, and for the time taken away from his government to be returned. This should be done without exception. Four years, not one day more and not one day less.”
The Obama administration is backtracking from an announcement it will continue US policy of rejecting an international convention banning land mines. Last week, the State Department said the White House has decided to leave the US stance in place following a review. But US officials now claim the review is still ongoing. On Tuesday, State Department official James Lawrence addressed attendees at a Mine Ban Treaty review conference in Colombia.
James Lawrence: “The administration’s decision to attend the review conference in Cartagena is the result of an ongoing comprehensive review of US land mine policy initiated at the direction of President Obama. This is the first comprehensive review since 2003. As such, it will take some time to complete, given that we must ensure that all factors are considered.”
The US is one of nearly forty countries that have refused to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty, which bars the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of antipersonnel mines.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is criticizing Switzerland’s vote to ban construction of minarets on Muslim places of worship. Swiss voters approved the measure Sunday in a referendum sponsored by two right-wing parties. Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets. On Tuesday, UN Human Rights office spokesperson Rupert Colville said the decision could violate international human rights treaties.
Rupert Colville: “Such a ban is discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take, and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said she hesitates to condemn a democratic vote, but she has no hesitation at all in condemning the anti-foreigner scare-mongering that has characterized political campaigns in a number of countries, including Switzerland, which helps produce results like this.”
Iran has released five British men detained after their yacht sailed into Iranian waters last week. The men had been sailing from Bahrain to Dubai.
In Britain, a university climate scientist has stepped down pending the result of a probe into the controversial disclosure of thousands of internal emails on global warming. Phil Jones says he will temporarily leave his position as head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. The school says a computer hacker illegally obtained emails between British and American scientists. Deniers of global warming say the emails provide evidence of an effort to silence academics who have questioned or downplayed human-driven climate change. But the academics say the emails were based on disputing academics who used flawed science to question global warming.
South Africa has announced plans to expand access to AIDS treatment and prevention for pregnant women. The changes conform with World Health Organization guidelines that call for pregnant women with HIV to be given drugs earlier in their pregnancy. The treatment of HIV-infected babies is expected to improve childhood mortality in South Africa. The announcement came on World AIDS Day. It marks a shift for the South African government, which has been criticized for its treatment efforts.
On Capitol Hill, the House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote today on a measure that would overhaul financial regulation. The bill has been held up by opposition from the Congressional Black Caucus, which has pushed for greater involvement of people of color in federal bailout programs.
The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to begin casting the first votes today on amendments to its version of the healthcare reform bill. On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson said he plans to introduce a provision that mirrors a House amendment that would severely restrict women’s access to abortion. Abortion rights groups are planning to unveil a public campaign against the Stupak-Pitts Amendment later today.
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy has also announced plans to introduce an amendment that would repeal the health insurance industry’s exemption from anti-trust laws.
The Washington, DC Council has voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Tuesday’s vote sets the stage for another vote in the coming weeks that would enact the measure into law.
In Arizona, a group of protesters confronted the controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio Tuesday during a public forum at Arizona State University’s journalism school. Arpaio has faced widespread accusations of racial profiling and discriminately enforcing federal immigration laws. Arpaio walked off the stage after the protesters refused to stop singing a version of the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio: “This isn’t the way journalists should operate. Are they all students up there? Well, why were they allowed here if they’re not students? Are we going to continue here? I mean, now you’ve got me in a box. I can’t explain myself. You know what? You know what? This is ridiculous. I’m going to go.”
And in business news, General Motors chief executive Fritz Henderson has announced he’s stepping down. Henderson’s departure comes eight months after the White House forced out his predecessor Rick Wagoner as part of GM’s government bailout.