The New York Times reports senior US officials are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport. Concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district sixty miles from the capital, Islamabad. The US is currently spending $100 million a year on a secret program to help Pakistan build stronger physical protections around their nuclear weapons facilities, but the Times reports the US does not even know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports Pakistan is continuing to expand its nuclear bomb-making facilities. Commercial satellite photos show two plutonium-producing reactors are nearing completion at Khushab, about 160 miles southwest of Islamabad. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit President Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
Supreme Court Justice David Souter officially told President Barack Obama Friday that he plans to resign, giving Obama his first chance to make an appointment to the nation’s highest court. Obama said he will seek somebody with a “sharp and independent mind”.
President Obama: “I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.”
The media has been busy speculating about Souter’s possible replacement. Names mentioned include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Stanford professor Kathleen Sullivan, appellate judge Diane Wood, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and New York Federal Appeals Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
The New York Times is reporting President Obama is moving toward reviving the Bush administration’s military commission system for prosecuting prisoners at Guantanamo. On the campaign trail, Obama criticized the military commissions system, saying, “by any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.” But Obama administration lawyers are now reportedly concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some Guantanamo prisoners in federal courts. The American Civil Liberties Union said continuing with the military commission system would be a retreat from Obama’s promise to return the country to the rule of law.
In Sri Lanka, at least sixty-four people died Saturday after the Sri Lankan army shelled a makeshift hospital inside a civilian safe zone. Sri Lanka has rejected calls for a ceasefire as it attempts to eliminate the Tamil Tigers. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone. Another 200,000 civilians are living in displacement camps.
Al Jazeera has revealed US soldiers are being encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan’s predominantly Muslim population. Soldiers have been filmed with Bibles printed in Afghanistan’s main Pashto and Dari languages. In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The Special Forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”
The Pentagon has not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s report. Regulations by the US military’s Central Command expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice.”
In other news from Afghanistan, NATO-led troops opened fire on a civilian car Sunday killing a twelve-year-old Afghan girl. The girl and her family were driving to a wedding. Two other members of her family were injured. Meanwhile, at least twenty-five people died in Afghanistan today in a series of bomb attacks.
The Justice Department has dropped espionage charges against two former employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The men, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged with obtaining classified information and passing it to the Israeli government. The charges were dropped, even though a former Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, had already pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information to AIPAC. Franklin is currently serving more than twelve years in prison.
Despite the espionage charges, AIPAC remains one of the most well-connected lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. AIPAC’s annual conference began yesterday in Washington. Speakers at the event include Vice President Joe Biden, John Kerry, the chair of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee and most of the House and Senate leadership. California Congresswoman Jane Harman is also participating in AIPAC’s conference. Congressional Quarterly recently reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap in 2005 telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two AIPAC officials. 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.
Health officials in Mexico said Sunday the worst of the swine flu epidemic may be over. Many experts say the new H1N1 virus might be no more severe than the normal flu. The number of infections in Mexico has been decreasing since April 24. Here in the United States, cases of swine flu are now confirmed in more than half of US states. But officials said most cases were mild.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda resigned earlier today after a crisis sparked by his sacking of the country’s army chief. Prachanda is the leader of the Maoist movement in Nepal. His resignation is seen as a possible blow to a 2006 peace pact that ended a decade-long civil war that pitted the army against the Maoists.
Former President Jimmy Carter met with Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz Friday and praised Bolivia’s new constitution.
Jimmy Carter: “Into a democracy of freedom, more equality for previously deprived people is a very good trend. Now, of course, in a new constitution, there’s a guarantee of a certain level of indigenous participation, not quite as much as they wanted, but a very good step in the right direction.”
Jimmy Carter also expressed support for President Barack Obama’s recent moves to ease travel and financial restrictions on Cuban Americans.
Jimmy Carter: “The policies of President Bush in the last eight years was a disaster for Latin America, and he tightened up the restraints on any accommodations with the Cuban people in an unnecessary way. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Obama has made clear moves, that if his ideas are reciprocated by Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, they will have a new relationship with Cuba. I’ve always felt that the economic embargo should have been abolished.”
In other news from Latin America, the right-wing supermarket chain owner Ricardo Martinelli has been elected president of Panama.
In Tacoma, Washington, eleven antiwar protesters were arrested Saturday when they blocked a convoy of Stryker vehicles bound for the Port of Tacoma. The Port Militarization Resistance project said more protests are scheduled this week.
Seven people were arrested at a mall in Philadelphia Saturday protesting the military’s use of video games for recruitment purposes. The demonstration targeted the Army Experience Center, a 14,000-square-foot facility at a Philadelphia mall, where teenagers as young as thirteen can play video games made by the Pentagon.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been questioned again over her support of the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques and use of waterboarding — this time by a fourth grader. During an event at the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington, Misha Lerner asked Rice what she thought about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from prisoners. Rice answered by repeatedly defending President Bush, saying he only authorized policies that were legal in order to protect the country. Misha’s mother, Inna Lerner, said the question her son had wanted to ask Rice was “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” But Misha’s teachers wanted him to soften it and take out the word “torture.”
In media news, the New York Times Company threatened last night to notify federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe in sixty days if the unions representing workers at the Globe did not agree to a series of major financial and contract concessions. The Times issued the ultimatum at 10:00 p.m., but negotiations kept taking place past the midnight deadline.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked World Press Freedom Day Sunday by saying the number of attacks on journalists around the world remains “shockingly high.” At least eleven media workers have been killed so far this year, including the prominent Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge.
Immigrant rights activists and workers held rallies across the country Friday to mark May Day. In Los Angeles, six separate immigration marches took place. Juan Jose Gutierrez helped organize one of the marches.
Juan Jose Gutierrez: “There has never been better conditions than now. We need to send a strong message to our president: we supported him, and now we are waiting for him to keep his promise of an immigration reform this year.”
In political news, federal investigators have launched a probe of former presidential candidate John Edwards to determine if he misused any campaign money in an attempt to cover up an extramarital affair.
The Filipino poet and community activist Al Robles died in San Francisco on Saturday. In 1996 the poet Russell Leong said of Robles, “Perhaps no one has listened as closely to the voices of the Filipino American community during the last thirty years.”
And one of Latin America’s most famed dissident artists, Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal, has died at the age of seventy-eight. Boal was the developer of the Theater of the Oppressed. In 1971 the Brazilian military dictatorship imprisoned him for four months. After his release, he was forced into exile for fifteen years. Augusto Boal joined us in the firehouse studio in 2007.
Augusto Boal: “And I only have one dream. It’s to dream all my life. That’s my only dream. I would like to go on dreaming. And if I can dream of things, well, I dream of solidarity among men and women, black and white, solidarity among countries, and solidarity to create ethics. What we think sometimes, we don’t think that there is a difference between moral and ethics. Moral is mores. It’s customs. And it was moral in this country, my country — slavery. It was moral. It was moral to buy a human being. So I’m not moralist, because I know that in moral there are horrible things. But I am ethical. We need to create an ethos. In Greek, it means the tendency to some kind of perfection. And my kind of profession is solidarity, is dialogue, is democracy — real democracy, not one that we see. That’s my — I want to — not to accomplish, because to accomplish — not to accomplish, to go on. To go on. There is a poet, a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who says, 'The path does not exist. The path, you make by treading on it. By walking, you make the path.' So we don’t know where the path leads, but we know the direction of the path that we want to take. That’s what I want, and not to accomplish, but to follow.”