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The US military has admitted to killing five Afghan civilians and wounding several others in an attack it initially said targeted militants. The shootings took place in the southeastern Khost province earlier this week. The dead included an infant boy. A nine-month pregnant woman was wounded and lost her baby.
President Obama is asking Congress for $83.4 billion in funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The request marks a complete reversal for Obama from two years ago, when he voted against war funding as a senator under former President George W. Bush. The request would bring the budgetary cost of the two occupations to nearly $1 trillion so far. Obama is also asking for $350 million for operations along the US-Mexico border and $400 million in counterinsurgency aid to Pakistan. Although the Democratic-led Congress is expected to approve the funding, some antiwar lawmakers are voicing opposition. Congress member Lynn Woolsey of California said, “Instead of attempting to find military solutions…President Obama must fundamentally change the mission in both countries to focus on promoting reconciliation, economic development, humanitarian aid, and regional diplomatic efforts.”
On the same day Obama requested millions more for war, tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied against the US occupation at a protest marking the six-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Hazem al-Araji of the Sadr movement said opposition to the occupation unites differing Iraqi factions.
Hazem al-Araji: “Those million people came from Iraq to express just one opinion that is calling for the US troops to withdraw from Iraq. They are Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. They came after the call of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr
to say 'No! No to America.'”
The CIA says it’s complied with President Obama’s order to cease operating secret prisons overseas. On Thursday, CIA director Leon Panetta said the prisons and black sites are no longer in use and remaining sites will be decommissioned. Obama ordered the prisons’ closure in one of his first moves after taking office. Panetta says the CIA hasn’t detained anyone since he took over in February but reiterated the Obama administration still maintains the authority to do so. Panetta, meanwhile, also announced the CIA will no longer allow private contractors to interrogate prisoners. And he said the CIA has followed Obama’s orders to impose interrogation rules adhering to the Army Field Manual.
A military jury has acquitted a Marine sergeant of murdering an unarmed Iraqi prisoner, even though he confessed to the crime. Sergeant Ryan Weemer was accused of killing the prisoner during the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004. In a recorded interview with interrogators in 2006, Weemer said, “I grabbed a gun and took him to the back of the house. I shot him twice in the chest.” Weemer also said he was ordered to carry out the killing and was tormented by his actions. His attorneys argued he was coerced into making the confession.
A US court has cleared the way for victims of the South African apartheid to sue major corporations for supporting human rights abuses. This week, a federal judge in New York said the foreign-based joint action can proceed in a US court. The suit accuses car makers General Motors, Ford and Daimler of knowingly supplying vehicles that were used to violently suppress protests. The suit also names IBM and Fujitsu for selling computer technology to the apartheid government.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has launched a hunger strike to pressure lawmakers to approve a law on electoral reform. The measure would increase representation for low-income rural areas. Morales urged support for the law on Thursday in La Paz.
Bolivian President President Evo Morales: “The people come first. The country comes first. Later come the interests of the regions and sectors. I send a true greeting to those comrades who are defending democracy, the people’s vote, the people’s vote from outside the country, and other demands of a structural nature through this effort they make, through this hunger strike.”
In Georgia, tens of thousands of people marched the streets of the capital Tbilisi Thursday calling for the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, a key US ally. Critics say Saakashvili has exerted increased authoritarian control and mistakenly led the country into war with Russia last summer.
Back in the United States, White House economic adviser Larry Summers was greeted with a hostile protest during a speaking appearance on Thursday. Earlier this week, the White House disclosed Summers received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund. As Summers addressed an audience at the Economic Club, two protesters stormed the stage with a sign saying “We want our money back.”
Larry Summers: “You know it’s hard enough to focus on the policy — focus on the policy choices that we have now without focusing —- without focusing on -—”
Protester #1: “Larry Summers is part of the problem. He’s a toxic mess.”
Protester #2: “And I’m out of work.”
Protester #1: “$135,000 from government bailed-out companies for one day? Your former companies paid you for that? We the people say no!”
Protester #2: “$5.2 million. $5.2 million this man made working one day a week in 2008 working for a hedge fund. We want our money back.”
Protester #1: “You’re part of the problem. You’re part of the problem.”
Protester #2: “Can we have our money back? Can we have our money back, please? Can I have some TARP to go with my stimulus?”
Protester #1: “I need a bailout for the peacekeepers. That’s right, Larry. You should resign. I am the people’s voice, sir. You should resign. Obama deserves a leader.”
A Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters to an Israeli bombing of his home during the attack on Gaza has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s voice was heard around the world after he recounted the killing of his daughters on live Israeli television moments after the attack. A well-known Gazan gynecologist, Aish has been a longtime advocate for peace between Israel and Palestinians.
On Capitol Hill, a controversial provision to fund nuclear power has re-emerged following its removal from the economic stimulus bill earlier this year. The so-called “low-carbon” energy provision would provide $50 billion over five years. Critics say the measure could lead to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants. It was quietly accepted as an amendment to the Senate’s budget blueprint introduced last week. The same measure was removed from February’s economic stimulus bill following public protest.
In Minnesota, state prosecutors have dropped terrorism charges against eight activists involved in protests at the Republican National Convention last September. The RNC 8 were believed to be the first people ever charged under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal PATRIOT Act. On Thursday, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said the terrorism charges were removed because they had become a “distraction.” But her office had faced widespread criticism following the disclosure the RNC 8 weren’t accused of committing the alleged offenses themselves, but were charged for actions carried out by others. The RNC 8 will still face conspiracy charges on rioting and damaging property.
A new poll has found more Americans are looking more favorably on the idea of socialism, while support for capitalism declines. According to Rasmussen Reports, just 53 percent of Americans believe capitalism is the best political-economic system. Twenty percent say they prefer the idea of “socialism.” A Rasmussen poll in December found 70 percent support the idea of a free market economy. The differing results could indicate many Americans don’t associate the state-reliant US financial system with one adhering to “free markets.”
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says efforts to improve food safety have stalled in the United States. On Thursday, the CDC called for speedier reforms to the nation’s food safety system to prevent a growing number of food-related illnesses.
And in Michigan, state officials have proposed massive cuts at the city of Detroit’s public schools. The plan would close twenty-three schools and lay off more than 600 teachers. Detroit is under a district-wide financial emergency with a projected $303 million deficit.