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In Sri Lanka, a government deadline for the surrender of Tamil Tiger rebels has passed with the Tamils refusing to lay down their arms. The deadline prompted some 49,000 civilians to flee the Tamils’ last remaining stronghold to avoid an expected intensified Sri Lankan military assault. Sri Lanka has been accused of indiscriminate bombings, while the Tamils have been accused of using the trapped civilians as human shields. An estimated 4,500 civilians have died in the fighting over the last three months. Aid groups have raised concerns of more civilian casualties, as up to 100,000 people remain trapped in the Tamil-controlled area.
President Obama visited the CIA’s Virginia headquarters Monday, following last week’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing torture techniques. Speaking before a raucous crowd, Obama refused to condemn the memo’s contents outright, calling them potential mistakes.
President Obama: “Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened the last few weeks. Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States, and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.”
The Obama administration has said it opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture, as well the Bush administration officials who authorized its use. On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation over the next six months.
Obama meanwhile held a cabinet meeting at the White House, where he laid out a plan to cut a collective $100 million from all government agencies.
President Obama: “I’m asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts to their administrative budgets, separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made. And in the next few weeks, we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget.”
In Geneva, diplomats from twenty-three European nations walked out of a UN conference on racism Monday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech calling Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” Audience members applauded as the diplomats exited the room.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “After World War II, under the pretext of Jewish suffering and by taking advantage of the Holocaust, they used aggression and military force to turn an entire nation into refugees. And they transplanted people from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world into their land, establishing a thoroughly racist government in occupied Palestine.”
The US and several other nations are already boycotting the conference over concerns it will criticize the Israeli government. Prior to the walkout, two protesters dressed in clown suits were removed after yelling at Ahmadinejad, “You are a racist!” Hundreds also protested Ahmadinejad outside the conference, including the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
Elie Wiesel: “His presence is a scandal. A man who is the number one Holocaust denier in the world, a man who publicly, repeatedly said that he was going to destroy the people of Israel, his place is not at the place where we discuss human rights. He violates human rights. He preaches hatred, and therefore he should be in jail, actually, in The Hague for incitement of genocide.”
The Israeli government and its supporters have accused Ahmadinejad of inciting genocide over a mistranslated 2005 speech. After the Geneva session, Ahmadinejad said Iran has been subject to repeated threats of violence from the Israeli government.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We will be able to experience peace and brotherhood when we all develop a more tolerant vision and improve our capacity to listen to each other. Please pay attention to this last point. They threaten us with war. The Zionist regime threatens to take military actions against us, again and again. But we do not believe in war. We think the solution to global problems should be based on humanitarian solutions, democratic solutions, based on the free votes of all nations.”
In news from Iran, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has joined the defense team of the imprisoned Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. A secret Iranian court sentenced Saberi to eight years in prison last week for allegedly spying for the United States. One of Iran’s leading dissidents, Ebadi will join Saberi’s legal team as it appeals the conviction. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated US calls for Saberi’s immediate release.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We believe she should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless, and that she has been subjected to a process that has been non-transparent, unpredictable, arbitrary. And we hope that actions will be taken as soon as possible by the authorities in Iran, including the judiciary, to bring about the speedy release of Ms. Saberi and her return home.”
In Iraq, at least three Iraqis were killed in a suicide attack on a meeting between US soldiers and local officials in the city of Baquba. At least eleven other Iraqis were also injured, along with eight US soldiers.
Back in the United States, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California is coming under growing scrutiny over allegations she discussed trading political favors with an Israeli agent in 2005. CQ Magazine reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections. On Monday, Harman issued a statement denying lobbying the Justice Department about the two AIPAC officials, but she did not deny the allegations of her discussion with the suspected Israeli agent, nor did she address whether she tried to lobby the White House.
President Obama has asked Congress to authorize a $100 billion grant to the International Monetary Fund. The funding boost would come as part of a $500 billion international commitment made at the G20 summit in London earlier this month.
The White House has announced Obama will meet with credit card executives from the nation’s top fourteen banks later this week. The White House says Obama will lobby them to back new limits on lending abuses, including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and interest charges on debt paid on time.
The Inspector General overseeing the government bailout of Wall Street has revealed he’s opened twenty criminal investigations and six audits into whether tax dollars are being misused. In a new report released today, Neil Barofsky says the investigations focus on allegations including securities fraud, tax, insider trading and public corruption.
Meanwhile, Barofsky has also revealed the financial services wing of the auto giant Chrysler turned down government aid over new federal limits on executive pay. In his new report on the bailout, Barofsky says Chrysler Financial turned down $750 million earlier this year. Chrysler Financial’s parent company, Chrysler, has received $4.5 billion in government loans. Chrysler Financial collected $1.5 billion in federal loans when less stringent pay limits were in place.
Oakland has become the latest American city to hire private armed guards to carry out police duties. Oakland’s city council recently voted to hire the company International Services to patrol troubled areas. Proponents say the move will save money for the cash-strapped city. Chicago’s city council recently proposed to grant private guards more responsibilities, including the authority to write traffic tickets.
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have signed onto a joint appearance next month in Toronto, Canada. Clinton and Bush will appear together on stage in what organizers call a “moderated conversation.” Last month, Bush faced wide protests and calls for his arrest when he came to the Canadian city of Calgary for his first post-White House public speech.
The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month has been brought to face trial in the United States. The pirate, nineteen-year-old Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi is expected to be arraigned in a New York courtroom later today.
In France, the state-controlled energy operator has admitted to infiltrating and spying on anti-nuclear activists across Europe. Pierre Francois, a former top security official for EDF, says he began organizing the spying since 2002.
And in media news, the Pulitzer Prize winners for journalism were handed out on Monday. The winners included Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona. The duo won for their coverage of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of practicing discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. Last month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into Arpaio’s immigration enforcement policies.