Nine US and NATO soldiers died in Afghanistan over the weekend, making it one of the deadliest weekends for foreign forces since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Three US soldiers were killed on Saturday in Kandahar province, and three more were killed on Sunday in Wardak province. In addition, two Canadian soldiers and a French soldier died.
Earlier today, at least twelve Afghans died in a bomb blast in the province of Herat in western Afghanistan.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is preparing to recommend a further escalation of the war. President Obama has already sent an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, but McChystal is expected to say thousands of more troops are needed.
In other news from Afghanistan, on Sunday the United Nations described the upcoming presidential election on August 20 as one of the most complicated ones the UN has worked on.
Kai Eide, UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan: “It is really the most complex and challenging elections that I have ever witnessed, experienced. And I said at that time that this is due to a number of elements. First of all, this is a country in conflict. Secondly, it’s a country with weak institutions. It’s a country with weak infrastructure and a very, very high illiteracy rate. It’s the most complex election I have ever witnessed.”
The Obama administration is considering creating a hybrid military-civilian prison in the United States to hold and try prisoners currently at Guantanamo. The proposal calls for a combined detention and trial facility to be built in an existing US maximum-security prison. The proposed facility would be operated jointly by the Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security. Officials said such a facility could also house prisoners held in indefinite detention. The American Civil Liberties Union said it would oppose such a facility, especially if it included holding some prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said, “Closing Guantanamo will be an empty gesture if we just reopen it on shore under a different name.”
A mass trial of 100 Iranian dissidents began Saturday in Tehran. The opposition leaders and political activists on trial have been charged with rioting and conspiring to topple the government in the turmoil surrounding Iran’s presidential election. The defendants include many prominent reformist leaders. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said the hearings were “show trials” that would harm the establishment. Former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi said some of the prisoners on trial had been forced to confess after being subjected to medieval torture. At the trial, Tehran’s deputy prosecutor accused the United States and other countries of masterminding the effort to topple the Iranian government. He alleged that several US organizations, including the Soros Institute, Freedom House and Stanford University, financed and instructed pro-Mousavi politicians in order to bring down the country’s leadership. Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has formally endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as president in a step leading up to his inauguration in parliament.
In other news from Iran, three US citizens have been arrested in Iran after they were caught hiking near the country’s western border near Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya vowed on Saturday to return to power through peaceful means and said he would take his case to the International Criminal Court.
Manuel Zelaya: “In the next few hours, the International Criminal Court will receive a demand to open a case based in the fundamentals of law that will open an investigation and, at the same time, the trial and condemnation of the people that have not only violated my individual rights, but the collective rights of our people, and have affected human rights.”
Two more supporters of Zelaya have died in Honduras. A teacher named Roger Vallejo died of a bullet wound to the head after two days in a hospital’s intensive care unit. Vallejo was shot in the head while taking part in a rally blocking a road leading out of the capital, Tegucigalpa. A funeral was held for Vallejo on Saturday. Another teacher, Martin Florencio Rivera Barrientos, was stabbed to death on Saturday after leaving Vallejo’s funeral.
In other Honduran news, a business coalition of Honduran textile manufacturers and exporters has hired Roger Noriega to lobby US lawmakers on behalf of the coup government. Noriega served as assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs under President Bush. He was a key figure in the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
In economic news, the Financial Times reports Wall Street banks are reaping outsized profits by trading with the Federal Reserve and taking advantage of the Fed’s transparency. The Fed has emerged as one of Wall Street’s biggest customers during the financial crisis, buying massive amounts of securities to help stabilize the markets. However, the Fed is not a typical market player. In the interests of transparency, it often announces its intention to buy particular securities in advance. A former Fed official said this strategy enables banks to sell these securities to the Fed at an inflated price. The resulting profits represent a relatively hidden form of support for banks. A former official of the Treasury Department and the Fed said the situation had reached the point that, quote, “everyone games them. Their transparency hurts them. Everyone picks their pocket.”
The news comes as two more banks have reported making billion-dollar profits so far this year. HSBC announced today that it made $3.35 billion in the first half of 2009. Barclays reported it made $3.2 billion.
Israeli police have evicted more than fifty Palestinians, including nineteen children, from their homes in East Jerusalem after an Israeli court ruled their homes were owned by Jewish settlers. The court’s ruling was based on nineteenth century documents. The eviction has been widely condemned by the international community, including the United Nations and the Obama administration. The British consulate said it was “appalled” by the court’s decision. In a statement, the consulate said, “These actions are incompatible with the Israeli professed desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow the extremists to set the agenda.”
Hatem Abdel Qader, a leader of Fatah in Jerusalem: “For sure, the battle in Sheikh Jarrah has not ended. There are confiscation orders for twenty-eight houses. Three of them have already been carried out. There is a battle to save the other houses. We will be firm in this battle on a political, social and legal level. There is an Israeli project in Sheikh Jarrah which aims to remove this neighborhood and connect it with Shepherd Hotel and the Mufti neighborhood and to locate a huge settlement close to the Old City of Jerusalem in order to make the Old City of Jerusalem Jewish.”
Meanwhile in the West Bank, Israeli troops have raided the village of Bil’in, the site of weekly nonviolent protests against the Israeli separation wall. Israeli troops reportedly seized eight Palestinians, including Mohammed Al Khatib, a member of the local popular committee against the wall.
In other news from Israel, a masked gunman shot dead two people Saturday night at a center for gay and lesbian teenagers in Tel Aviv. The dead were identified as a twenty-six-year-old counselor at the center and a seventeen-year-old girl. Eleven people were wounded, four of them critically. The center was meant to be a safe place where gay and lesbian teens could meet with counselors and other teenagers. The shooting is believed to be the worst attack ever against the gay and lesbian community in Israel. But tension between the country’s gay community and ultra-Orthodox Jews has been growing. Last year a lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party suggested in Parliament that earthquakes were divine punishment for homosexual activity. In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants of a gay pride parade in Jerusalem.
An Indian court has reissued an arrest warrant for the former boss of the US chemical company responsible for the Bhopal disaster twenty-five years ago. The court urged the Indian government to seek the extradition of Warren Anderson from the United States. Anderson was head of Union Carbide when its pesticide factory at Bhopal leaked tons of poison gas, killing thousands of people. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemical. Satinath Sarangi runs a clinic in Bhopal that provides survivors of the disaster with free medical and community healthcare.
Satinath Sarangi: “Within the first three days, between eight and ten thousand people died. And then, in the subsequent years, more people died because of the damage that was caused to almost every organ in the body, because the poisons that people inhaled, they went into the bloodstream through their lungs and stayed there and damaged their lungs, their brain, liver, kidneys. And even more than 100,000 people still have chronic illnesses from that exposure. The next generation, we know, is marked by Carbide’s poisons.”
In healthcare news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to allow a debate and vote on a single-payer healthcare plan before the end of the year as part of a deal with New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. The New York Daily News reports Weiner got Pelosi’s promise after he agreed to withdraw an amendment to essentially create Medicare for the whole nation during the House Energy and Commerce Committee healthcare markup session. After Weiner removed his amendment, the committee voted 31-28 for a healthcare reform plan that includes a “public option” plan.
A prominent Washington lobbying firm has acknowledged sending forged letters to a Virginia lawmaker urging him to vote against the House climate change bill. The lobbying firm Bonner & Associates sent letters to the office of Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello of Virginia that appeared to be from members of the NAACP and the Latino organization Creciendo Juntos. The letters urged Perriello to vote against the climate bill in order to protect minorities from higher energy bills. The fake letters appeared on letterhead from the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos and were signed by made-up individuals. The lobbying firm claimed that the letters were sent out in error by a temporary employee, but the firm has a history of what’s called “astroturfing,” misrepresenting corporate-backed policy as a real grassroots movement. The company has refused to say who was paying for the campaign to derail the climate change bill. Clients of Bonner & Associates have included Citicorp, Aetna, PhRMA, Dow Chemical, AT&T, and General Motors. In the end, the effort failed. Congressman Tom Perriello voted for the legislation.
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