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HeadlinesMay 18, 2009

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Tamil Tiger Leader Killed; Sri Lanka Claims Victory

May 18, 2009

Sri Lanka’s quarter-century-long civil war is in its final throes, with the militant Tamil separatist group, the Tamil Tigers, almost completely defeated. The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed earlier today while trying to flee in an ambulance. Several other senior Tamil Tigers have also been found dead. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan military claimed victory after the Tamil Tigers said it was “prepared to silence its guns” and admitted that the fighting had reached a “bitter end.” An estimated 8,000 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka since January, when the military intensified its attack on the separatist group. We’ll have more on Sri Lanka after headlines.

Rumsfeld Covered Briefing Papers in Biblical Texts

May 18, 2009

GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly placed Biblical quotes on President Bush’s top-secret briefings during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a US soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Another briefing paper included a photograph of a US tank next to the quote “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” A third briefing paper showed US tanks entering an Iraqi city alongside the quote “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” Some Pentagon officials were concerned that, if Rumsfeld’s top secret briefings were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was a battle against Islam. One Pentagon official warned the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions

May 18, 2009

Human rights organizations are criticizing President Obama’s decision to revive the military tribunal system for Guantanamo Bay prisoners despite the administration’s pledge to grant prisoners expanded legal rights.

Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch: “This has been tried before. The first round of military commissions was struck down by the Supreme Court. They were revived under slightly improved rules, and once again they were still profoundly unfair. They allowed coerced evidence into the courtroom, and they allowed evidence that was — they had terrible hearsay rules. The judges didn’t even know what the rules were. The proceedings were totally chaotic. This will be the third time that there is an effort to resurrect the military commissions, and we have absolutely no faith that they’re going to be any better, even if you do improve the rules slightly.”

On Friday, President Obama unveiled new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the tribunal system.

Robert Gibbs: “The President, as I said, during the debate said that properly structured military commissions had a role to play. The changes that he is seeking, he believes, will ensure the protections that are necessary for these to be conducted in order to reach that certain justice, as well as live up to our values.”

Report: US Special Forces Sent into Pakistan

May 18, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports the US is sending Special Forces into Pakistan to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Twenty-five to fifty Special Forces personnel are deploying to two new training camps in Baluchistan, a Taliban stronghold on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the US to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

Report: 1,000 Suspected Taliban Killed in Pakistan

May 18, 2009

The Pakistani military is now claiming it has killed more than 1,000 suspected Taliban fighters along the Afghan border. Pakistan is considering widening its offensive to outside of the Swat Valley. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told the Sunday Times of London, “Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” The military offensive in the Swat Valley has already displaced more than a million people.

29 Killed in US Drone Strike in Pakistan

May 18, 2009

Meanwhile, the US has carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan, killing as many as twenty-nine people Saturday in South Waziristan.

Brother of Afghan President Survives Attack

May 18, 2009

In Afghanistan, gunmen attacked the convoy of President Hamid Karzai’s brother earlier today. Ahmad Wali Karzai survived, but the gunmen killed one of his bodyguards.

Blackwater Guards Shot Civilian Car in Afghanistan

May 18, 2009

Four US contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul earlier this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians. The contractors were off-duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking.

Obama Addresses Abortion Debate at Notre Deame

May 18, 2009

During his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Barack Obama called on both sides of the abortion debate to tone down their rhetoric and search for common ground.

President Obama: The fact is, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

About forty people were arrested at Notre Dame Sunday protesting President Obama’s support of abortion rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi Put on Trial in Burma

May 18, 2009

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial today on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest after a US man swam to her home. If convicted, she faces a further five years in detention. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last nineteen years in detention. We’ll have more on Burma later in the show.

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet in Washington

May 18, 2009

President Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. Obama is expected to ask Netanyahu to freeze Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, while Netanyahu is expected to stress that “time is running out” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The meeting comes as reports emerge that Israel has begun constructing a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in twenty-six years. Tenders have been issued for twenty housing units in the new Maskiot settlement, and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundational work. The Israeli Peace Now movement called the move proof that “Netanyahu is not ready to commit to a two-state solution” and is striving to “prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Four Kuwaiti Women Elected to Parliament

May 18, 2009

In Kuwait, a group of women have won election to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time. The US-educated economist Rola Dashti is one of four women who won seats.

Rola Dashti: “Change is coming to Kuwait. We want a culture of solutions to many issues we can cooperate in. We want a constructive debate. And if it’s God’s will, this period will be the period for building a nation”

Women in Kuwait gained the right to vote and to run for office in 2005.

Russian Police Break Up Gay Rights Parade

May 18, 2009

In Russia, riot police police broke up a peaceful gay rights parade in Moscow Saturday and detained forty people. The march had been outlawed by Moscow authorities.

Obama Taps Republican Governor to be China Envoy

May 18, 2009

President Obama has named Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to be the next US ambassador to China. Huntsman is a Republican who had been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin, served as deputy US trade representative in the administration of President George Bush from 2001-2004. He also served as co-chair of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Jon Huntsman: “You have my commitment that we will take the US-China relationship to new heights, focused not just on that which divides us, but more importantly on that which unites us, knowing that this will be critical for lasting peace and prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Pacific. I’m reminded of my favorite Chinese aphorism. It goes something like this: 'Together we work, together we progress.' This, more than anything else, I think captures the spirit of our journey going forward.”

General Electric Begins Dredging Hudson River

May 18, 2009

General Electric has begun dredging for PCBs in the Hudson River, twenty-five years after the contamination was deemed a federal Superfund site. GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson before PCBs were banned in 1977. The contaminated sediment will be transported by train to a hazardous waste site in Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border. The Sierra Club in Texas has opposed the plan. Neil Carman said, “All they’re doing is relocating toxic waste. They’re moving a problem from one location to another [and] creating problems for future generations to solve.” While GE is paying to clean up the river, the company is still challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law in federal court.

Obama Taps GE Attorney to be Nation’s Top Environmental Litigator

May 18, 2009

Meanwhile, President Obama has tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed, Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said, “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

May 18, 2009

In other environmental news, the Obama administration has given the green light for forty-two more mountaintop removal permits, dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath.

FBI Spied on Iowa Protesters Before Republican Convention

May 18, 2009

The Des Moines Register has revealed an FBI informant and an undercover Minnesota sheriff’s deputy spied on political activists in Iowa City last year before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Confidential FBI documents obtained by the paper provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and email addresses. Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

Peruvian Indigenous Groups Fight Plans to Develop Natural Resources

May 18, 2009

And the Peruvian government has sent troops into the Amazon to squash protests by Peruvian indigenous groups who oppose plans to develop the region’s natural resources. On Friday, the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle called for an insurgency against new laws that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango: “The national committee for the struggle appointed by all of you has decided, by expressed mandate, to prepare itself to declare our indigenous communities as an insurgency against the government of Mr. Alan Garcia Perez…Insurgency means disobeying the government because of the mistreatment. They abuse us. They are killing our communities.”

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