New figures show Afghan civilian casualties rose to more than 2,100 last year. More than a third were killed by Afghan and US-led troops. On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed criticism of deadly US attacks.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “Our demands are clear: house searches of Afghans, arrests of Afghans, and civilian casualties must cease. And the US and NATO countries are naturally putting on pressure to make us silent and retract from this claim. This is not possible.”
The US has ignored growing criticism from Karzai, including his demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. President Obama is preparing to send around 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan later this year.
Militant attacks also increased by one-third in Afghanistan last year. Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said the number of foreign militants has swelled because of the Iraq war.
Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak: “Since last year, as the result of the success in the surge in Iraq, there has been a flow of foreign terrorists into Afghanistan. There has been engagement this year, in 2008, that in some of these engagements actually 60 percent of the total force which we have encountered were foreign, foreign fighters.”
The Al Jazeera news network is reporting Israeli forces have fired on a Lebanese aid ship off the coast of Gaza. Witnesses say Israeli troops then stormed the boat, beat passengers and destroyed communication equipment. The boat is carrying more than sixty tons of desperately needed aid for Gaza. Israel has forcibly denied several aid ships trying to break its blockade of Gaza, almost forcing one to sink last month.
The UN’s humanitarian agency in Gaza is coming under threat from a new congressional measure in the United States. Eight Congress members have co-sponsored House Congressional Resolution 29, which threatens to pull funding for the United Nations Relief Works Agency, or UNRWA. The bill says UNRWA has links to terror groups. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza rely on UNRWA for survival. Israel attacked several UNRWA facilities, including schools and aid depots, during its three-week assault on Gaza. On Wednesday, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness renewed calls for an independent probe of an Israeli attack on one of the schools.
UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness: “The Israeli army at first said there were militants inside installations. They later had to retract that, and at the same time the IDF and other Israeli spokespeople were saying that there were militants inside our installations. Israeli officials in our coordination meetings were saying they knew very well that there weren’t. So there’s been a flipping and a flopping, and with each flip, with each flop, the credibility of these Israeli spokespeople is hanging in rags. That’s why we say there has to be an impartial investigation to find out what really happened.”
In Sri Lanka, the last functioning hospital in the northern war zone has closed after coming under its fifth attack in three days. Medics and patients have evacuated the area. Thousands of civilians continue to be trapped and without medical care as Sri Lanka government forces battle Tamil Tiger rebels. The hospital reportedly came under fire from cluster bombs. The UN says at least fifty civilians have been killed over the past few days.
In Somalia, the director of a local radio station has been assassinated. Said Tahlil Ahmed was killed by gunmen Wednesday in Mogadishu. Ahmed headed the independent radio station HornAfrik. He’s believed to be the ninth local journalist killed in Somalia since 2007.
President Obama has unveiled a plan that would cap executive pay and end bonuses at firms receiving future taxpayer bailouts. An executive at a bailed-out company could make a maximum $500,000.
President Obama: “For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis isn’t just bad taste, it’s bad strategy, and I will not tolerate it as President. We’re going to be demanding some restraint in exchange for federal aid, so that when firms seek new federal dollars, we won’t find them up to the same old tricks.”
The caps would only apply to future bailouts, not the money already disbursed. The move follows outcry over last week’s disclosure that Wall Street firms paid out more than $18 billion in bonuses last year.
Meanwhile, a new report has found that firms aided by the $700 billion Wall Street bailout spent more than $114 million on lobbying and political contributions for the 2008 election. The Center for Responsive Politics says the lobbying yielded a return of more than $295 billion through government spending and favorable legislation — a return of more than 250 percent.
Meanwhile, American auto parts suppliers are asking for more than $20 billion in government bailouts. The Automatic News reports supplies have requested half the money to come in Treasury Department loans and the rest to come through payments from automakers.
The electronics giant Panasonic has announced plans to lay off 15,000 workers. The Japan-based company will close twenty-seven plants worldwide following its first annual loss in six years.
The British High Court is claiming US government threats have prevented it from revealing details on the alleged torture of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. On Wednesday, two senior judges said they are unable to release key information, because the US has threatened to end intelligence sharing with Britain. The British attorney general is considering whether to bring charges against Americans involved in the rendition and alleged torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed claims his confession to terrorism charges was given only after he had his penis sliced by a blade. The Bush administration has refused to release key documents to Mohamed’s lawyers and said efforts to obtain them would cause “serious and lasting damage” to US-British relations and jeopardize British “national security.” In its new ruling, the British High Court said it reluctantly caved to US threats, because disobeying them would mean putting the British public “at risk.” Mohamed’s attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, said, “For the [British] foreign secretary to give in to these illegal demands by the Bush administration is capitulation to blackmail, pure and simple.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has canceled a controversial last-minute Bush administration attempt to auction off nearly 150,000 acres of wilderness in southern Utah. On Wednesday, Salazar said he had canceled the leases to drill for gas and oil on the seventy-seven parcels of public land. The sale was initially delayed after university student Tim DeChristopher posed as a bidder and bought up thousands of acres.
An American war resister has been arrested after being ordered to leave Canada. Cliff Cornell is being held at a Washington state jail after surrendering at the US-Canada border. Cornell’s attorney is criticizing the arrest, because Cornell had announced he intended to return to his unit voluntarily. He’s being held on charges of going AWOL.
Cornell fled to Canada four years ago after his Army unit was ordered to go to Iraq.
And Congress has voted to delay the transition from analog to digital broadcasts until June. Broadcasters were supposed to turn off their analog signals later this month. But the Obama administration asked for a delay amidst ongoing consumer confusion over how to make the switch.