In Honduras, the coup regime has reimposed a nighttime curfew in the capital Tegucigalpa after the largest public rallies for the ousted President Manuel Zelaya in over a month. On Tuesday, an estimated crowd of over 10,000 marched in the capital for Zelaya’s return. The Honduran First Lady, Xiomara de Zelaya, criticized the coup regime for delaying the visit of a delegation from the Organization of American States.
Xiomara de Zelaya: “We have seen how they have been going against countries, when they rejected the Organization of American States from coming to Honduras to meet with different sectors. This is a battle they are holding against the entire world.”
The march ended in clashes between police and a number of demonstrators. Police fired tear gas, while protesters blocked roads and allegedly set fire to a bus and an American fast-food restaurant. Thousands of Zelaya supporters also marched in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second largest city.
Meanwhile, the international mediator in the Honduran crisis, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, has contracted the swine flu virus. The Costa Rican government says Arias is suffering from a mild case and will return to his full duties next week. Arias is the first head of state known to have caught the swine flu.
President Obama is intensifying his campaign for healthcare reform amidst an increasingly contentious public debate. In recent weeks, protesters have turned up at meetings held by Democratic lawmakers across the nation to oppose proposals for a government-funded health option. Democrats say right-wing operatives have orchestrated some of the protests. On Tuesday, Democratic Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Claire McCaskill of Missouri faced hostile crowds at separate public events. Meanwhile in Georgia, the office of Democratic Congress member David Scott was vandalized with a swastika spray-painted on a sign bearing his name. Scott took part in a public healthcare forum last week. Speaking at his own “town hall”-style event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire Tuesday, Obama said the need for reform is dire.
President Obama: “I don’t have to explain to you that nearly 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance coverage today. In the wealthiest nation on earth, 46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage. They are just vulnerable. If something happens, they go bankrupt, or they don’t get the care they need.”
Obama also addressed his Republican critics, accusing them of falsifying the issues.
President Obama: “Where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed. Because the way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks, and they’ll create boogeymen out there that just aren’t real.”
As Obama spoke, dozens of people rallied outside denouncing his healthcare agenda. One protester openly carried a handgun strapped to his leg. A local police chief, Ed Strong, said the handgun is legal under New Hampshire state law.
Ed Strong: “Well, it’s the law in many states in the United States. If it’s not concealed, it’s legal to carry it, and it’s something that we have to live with.”
The man with the loaded gun was carrying a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson that read, “It is time to water the tree of Liberty.” The complete line, not included on the sign, continues, “…with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” Obama is scheduled to hold two more town halls in Montana and Colorado later this week.
A Lebanese contractor is claiming to have been the first known victim of rendition and torture under President Obama. In a new lawsuit against the US government, Raymond Azar says he was coerced into confessing to bribing a contract officer after his arrest in Afghanistan in April. A federal agent reportedly threatened Azar with never seeing his family again. Azar also says he was hooded, shackled, photographed naked, strip-searched, subjected to extreme cold temperatures and sleep-deprived. Azar was eventually sent to the United States, where he now faces charges in a federal antitrust case.
A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a former CIA contractor over the beating death of an Afghan prisoner. The contractor, David Passaro, was convicted for abusing Abu Wali with his fists and a flashlight. Wali had voluntarily turned himself in to a US military base after hearing he was suspected of involvement in rocket attacks. Passaro was the first American contractor convicted of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan. In its ruling, the court also ordered a new sentencing for Passaro, who was given a more than eight-year jail term for Wali’s death. The court says that sentence exceeds federal guidelines and should be reduced.
Newly disclosed documents have provided more evidence of an extensive Bush administration role in the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of evidence including emails and testimony that had previously been kept under seal. The emails show former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias was fired after a lengthy correspondence between White House officials upset with his refusal to address alleged voter fraud. Republicans had wanted Iglesias to take on voter fraud in part to benefit a Republican lawmaker’s re-election campaign. Iglesias spoke about Karl Rove when he appeared on Democracy Now! in June 2008.
David Iglesias: “I only met Karl Rove one time. He was at a luncheon in Albuquerque. He came over and introduced himself. But, you know, he was looking to broaden the base of the party, and as an evangelical Christian, as a military veteran, and as a Hispanic, I represented the future of the party, and that was all in one package. I had run for office. I’m typically conservative on lots of social issues. And I think Rove saw that I represented the future of the party. But I think he also thought I was the kind of person who would file bogus voter fraud prosecutions, I would — was the kind of US attorney that would rush an indictment if it would help a fellow conservative. And, you know, I wasn’t that — I didn’t do that.”
In Afghanistan, a number of militants were killed earlier today when US Marines attacked a Taliban area in Helmand Province. The offensive marked the first time US forces had entered the town of Dahanne, which has been under Taliban control. It comes one day after three US troops were killed in southern Afghanistan, bringing this month’s US toll to eighteen. Another nine Afghan civilians and two Afghan soldiers were also killed in separate attacks.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador in Kabul is seeking a major funding increase for non-military operations in Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is requesting an additional $2.5 billion in funding, around 60 percent more than what President Obama has requested from Congress.
The Obama administration has sent lawmakers its plan for new regulations of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that played a major role in the nation’s economic collapse. The White House wants rules that would have a form of derivatives, credit default swaps, traded on public exchanges and backed by existing capital. But it hasn’t endorsed calls for an outright ban on derivatives linked to speculative trading. The administration’s proposal marks the last element of its overhaul of financial regulations. Lawmakers will consider the plan when they return from August recess.
In Wisconsin, nine peace activists were arrested this week at the US military base Mount McCoy. The activists had completed a three-day walk to protest the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the US nuclear stockpile on the sixty-fourth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The activists are expected to stand trial on federal trespass charges.
And President Obama is set to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony today at the White House. The sixteen new recipients include the civil rights veteran the Reverend Joseph Lowery, the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the actor Sidney Poitier, the tennis legend Billie Jean King, the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and UN high commissioner for human rights. Robinson’s award has come under protest from pro-Israeli government groups opposed to her criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Obama will also posthumously honor Harvey Milk, the gay rights pioneer who was assassinated in 1978.