The civilian death toll from the US-led assault on the Afghan town of Marjah has reached at least nineteen. Earlier today, NATO confirmed the killings of another three civilians since Sunday’s rocket attack that killed twelve people in the same home. Ten of the victims were from the same family. The US military initially claimed the rockets missed their target, but now says the home was intentionally attacked because Taliban fighters were inside. The bodies of the victims were handed over for burial on Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, at least three people have been killed in a suspected US drone attack. The strike reportedly destroyed a home in a village in North Waziristan. Pakistan meanwhile has confirmed reports the Taliban’s top military commander has been captured by Pakistani and US forces. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is in Pakistani custody but is also being interrogated by US officials. He is considered to be the most significant Taliban figure detained in the over-eight-year Afghan war.
President Obama has unveiled a plan to help build the nation’s first nuclear reactors in nearly three decades. On Tuesday, Obama said the government will put up $8.3 billion to help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia. The loan guarantees will cover up to 80 percent of the company’s costs.
President Obama: “To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple. This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant. That’s like taking 3.5 million cars off the road.”
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized up to $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants and other energy projects. President Obama wants to triple the loan guarantees to $54 billion.
In Haiti, a new study says the damage from last month’s earthquake is worse than after the 2004 Asian tsunami. The Inter-American Development Bank says the damage could cost anywhere between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, compared to initial estimates of around $5 billion. Study co-author Andrew Powell said the earthquake could be the most destructive natural disaster in modern history.
Andrew Powell: “In relation to Haiti’s size, its population or its economic income, it’s really a terrible tragedy, one of the worst events that the world has seen for a country proportionate to the country’s size. And so, it’s really a devastating impact that the earthquake has had. We may well be talking of anything up to $13 or $14 billion of damages, and, of course, reconstruction needs is somewhat different to damages.”
Tensions between the US and Iran are intensifying in the latest war of words over Iran’s nuclear program. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience in Saudi Arabia the Iranian government is the world’s largest supporter of terrorism.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Iran has threatened other countries, including the Kingdom. Iran has funded terrorists that have launched attacks within other countries, including the Kingdom. Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world today.”
Clinton was speaking before a women’s college in the town of Jeddah. When asked by a student why the US has not insisted Israel abandon its nuclear weapons, Clinton did not respond.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, said Iran remains open to a nuclear fuel swap. Under the long-discussed plan, Iran would send enriched uranium abroad in return for nuclear fuel to power a reactor for medical use. Iran appeared to have rejected the proposal last year. But on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said, “We are still ready for an exchange, even with America.” Ahmadinejad also warned against imposing new sanctions against his government, saying, “Our response will not be like before.”
Meanwhile in Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration continues to leave the option of military action on the table.
Journalist: “And on Iran, you said there will be consequences.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “Yes.”
Journalist: “Do you rule out military consequences?”
Secretary Gibbs: “I wouldn’t rule out anything. Our focus has been on the process of engagement. The Iranians have, at virtually every turn, either ignored or disregarded that engagement, demonstrating to the world that its nuclear program is not of the means and type that they have tried to convince others that it’s for; that, as a result of that, not living up to their responsibilities, that consequences will follow.”
The Obama administration is reappointing a US ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence. On Tuesday, the White House said it had tapped veteran diplomat Robert Ford for the Damascus post. The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador following the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Ford’s nomination will now face Senate approval.
A US district judge has dismissed a case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and US military officials over the deaths of two Guantánamo Bay prisoners. The military has claimed the prisoners — Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami — and another prisoner committed suicide at Guantánamo in 2006. But a recent article in Harper’s Magazine said the prisoners may have been suffocated and tortured at a secret black site facility at Guantánamo known as “Camp No.” The prisoners’ families had been seeking damages under the Alien Tort Claims Act. But on Tuesday, District Judge Ellen Huvelle said their case is barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 2009 was the deadliest year for journalists on record. On Tuesday, the group said seventy-one journalists were killed across the globe last year. Fifty-one of the deaths were murders. Twenty-nine deaths came from the massacre of Filipino journalists last November, the deadliest-ever incident for journalists to date.
The Justice Department has announced it won’t bring civil rights charges against any of the police officers who killed the unarmed New York resident Sean Bell in 2006. Bell, an African American, died in a hail of fifty police bullets on the morning of what would have been his wedding day. He was twenty-three years old. The civil rights investigation began after three of the officers were acquitted in a 2008 trial.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, the Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of a seventy-three-year-old African American man killed by police in the town of Homer one year ago. Bernard Monroe was shot seven times in his front yard by a white police officer who claimed Monroe was carrying a gun. Several witnesses say Monroe only had a water bottle and accused the officers of placing a gun next to his body. Monroe had been left mute after suffering from throat cancer. Earlier this month, a jury acquitted the officers of Monroe’s murder.