The Taliban’s top military commander has been reportedly captured in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and US intelligence forces. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was seized last week in Karachi, Pakistan. He is currently in Pakistani custody but is being interrogated by both Pakistani and US officials. Baradar is considered to be the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the US-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He is believed to be the most trusted lieutenant of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban. The New York Times broke the story last night. The Times had actually learned of Baradar’s capture last Thursday but delayed reporting on it at the request of White House officials. The Taliban has denied the reports, saying Baradar is still in Afghanistan.
The US and NATO assault on the Afghan city of Marjah has entered a fourth day. On Monday troops faced sporadic resistance as they were targeted with gunfire, sniper fire and booby traps. The US is coming under increasing criticism over the rise in civilian casualties during the operation. At least nineteen civilians have been killed over the past three days in or around Marjah. Another five civilians were killed Monday in an air strike in neighboring Kandahar Province. Nadir Nadiri of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission urged international forces to protect civilians.
Nadir Nadiri: “The loss of twelve people’s lives, civilians, is an issue of concern, and we would like to see that the civilian causality comes to the minimum level. And we also request that an investigation to be carried out to see how these civilians have lost their lives.”
Nadir Nadiri also called on the Taliban not to use civilians as human shields.
Nadir Nadiri: “We are very much concerned indeed about the fact that the Taliban has tried to prevent people leaving the conflict area, and that shows that there was attempts to make human shields of civilians. And we strongly request the Taliban to prevent repeating such an act and avoid making human shields of the civilians.”
Officials in Dubai say arrest warrants will soon be issued for eleven Europeans suspected of assassinating a top Hamas commander. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead last month in a hotel in Dubai. Police said the identified suspects include British, Irish, German and French passport holders, but there has been much speculation that the Israeli spy agency Mossad was behind the killing. A police statement said the killers had adopted disguises, including wigs and hats, used an electronic device to enter al-Mabhouh’s hotel room, and lay in wait for him. Police in Dubai have not ruled out Israeli involvement in the killing.
In Haiti, four children died Monday and eight were seriously injured after heavy rains triggered mudslides that crashed into a classroom in the city of Cap-Haitien.
Haitian President René Préval has estimated it will take three years to clear the rubble left by last month’s devastating earthquake. Préval told the Associated Press, “It will take 1,000 trucks moving rubble for 1,000 days, so that’s three years. And until we move out rubble, we cannot really build.” On Monday approximately 200 Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to protest the government’s response to the earthquake. Jean Enock Joseph called on the Haitian government, church and civil society to take responsibility for the care of the local population.
Jean Enock Joseph: “Two hundred and fifty thousand wounded Haitians is something extraordinary. We say, and we say again, that the state has to take responsibility, the church has to take responsibility, civil society has to take responsibility.”
Reports are emerging from Honduras that critics of last summer’s coup are still facing grave human rights abuses even after the election of President Porfirio Lobo last month. According to the website World War Four Report, Julio Funes Benítez, a local leader of the anti-coup National Resistance Front, was shot dead on Monday. On Friday, Hermes Reyes, a cultural worker with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, was abducted by three presumed paramilitary gunmen and beaten and tortured before he was released hours later. Also on Friday, assailants broke into the home of Porfirio Ponce, a vice president of the beverage workers union and a leader of the National Resistance Front. Also last week, two male and two female members of the civil resistance were kidnapped and held for three days. All four were beaten, and the women were raped. The captors reportedly said the assault was ”un saludo de Pepe” — a greeting from Pepe, the nickname of President Lobo.
President Obama is expected to announce today the federal government will give over $8 billion in loan guarantees to help build the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in three decades. The loans will help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia near the city of Augusta. The loan guarantees will cover up to 70 percent of the company’s portion of the project’s costs. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Department of Energy to issue up to $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants and other energy projects. President Obama wants to triple the size of the loan guarantees to $54 billion.
In Britain, police arrested twenty-six people on Monday during a protest at a nuclear arms site where warheads for Trident submarines are made. Organizers said over 800 people took part in a blockade of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston. Protesters included Nobel Peace Prize winners Jody Williams and Mairead Maguire. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said the action was the biggest blockade of a nuclear arms site in Britain in many years.
Hundreds of Iranian opposition supporters from across Europe demonstrated outside the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Monday as Iran’s human rights record was for the first time being examined by the Human Rights Council. Bita Tavana heads the Swiss Committee for a Free Iran.
Bita Tavana: “We just want a free nation, a democratic nation. We want a secular country, and we think that this government is really a danger for the whole world. And we just want that the whole world is aware of that and that they stand beside of the freedom-loving nation of Iran.”
Inside the UN meeting, Iran’s envoy to Geneva insisted that Tehran fully respects human rights and denounced concerns raised by the United States, Britain and France as political gestures amid a wider nuclear standoff.
In news from Egypt, opposition politician Ayman Nour said Monday he wanted to run for president again next year and would challenge a rule that bars him from entering the race. Nour is one of Egypt’s best-known dissidents. In 2005 he challenged Hosni Mubarak for president but came in a distant second. Soon after the vote, Nour was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of allegedly forging some of the signatures required to register his political party. Egyptian law bans Nour from any political office for at least five years after the end of his original jail term.
In education news here in New York, the Daily News reports three politically connected charter schools are expected to receive over $72 million in city money to build new schools. The announcement comes just weeks after the city voted to close nineteen public schools. Part of the $72 million in construction money will go to PAVE Academy in Brooklyn. The school was founded by Spencer Robertson, the son of a billionaire hedge fund manager. Also receiving construction money will be the Harlem Promise Academy founded by Geoffrey Canada, a close ally of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The third charter school receiving construction funds is Peninsula Preparatory Academy in Queens, which state Senate President Malcolm Smith helped found.
In political news, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana has announced he will not seek reelection this year. Bayh’s decision hands Republicans another opportunity to win a seat. There has been some speculation that he may run for president in 2016. Bayh is the third Democratic senator to announce he is retiring. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota previously said they would not seek reelection.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is facing a challenge from the right in the Republican primary. Former Republican congressman and right-wing radio host J.D. Hayworth launched his campaign to challenge Senator John McCain at a rally on Monday in Phoenix. Standing next to Hayworth at his campaign launch were Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Chris Simcox, the co-founder of the anti-immigrant Minutemen.
And in journalism news, the 2009 George Polk Awards were announced Monday. An award was given to the unnamed people who captured on video the shooting death of Iranian student Neda Agha-Soltan during protests of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection. The curator of the awards, John Darnton, said “This award celebrates the fact that, in today’s world, a brave bystander with a cell phone camera can use video-sharing and social networking sites to deliver news.”