The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has apologized to the Afghan people for Sunday’s air strike that killed at least twenty-seven civilians riding in a convoy of minibuses. Gen. Stanley McChrystal took the unusual step of recording a videotaped message that was then then translated into the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto. The air strike was reportedly ordered by US Special Operations Forces who believed the minibuses carried Taliban fighters. Abdul Qadir Noorzai, a human rights official in Afghanistan, condemned the US air strike.
Abdul Qadir Noorzai: “This kind of incident by NATO is really shocking and disappointing news. We hope the international forces, who are well aware of international law and human rights law, take this incident very seriously, and launch an investigation into how twenty-seven innocent civilians were martyred and all those wounded.”
The US death toll in Afghanistan has reached 1,000. We’ll have more on Afghanistan after headlines.
The top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said Monday the US is preparing contingency plans to delay the withdrawal of all combat forces in Iraq if violence or political instability increases after next month’s election. Under President Obama’s current plan, the US has vowed to cut the number of troops in Iraq in half to 50,000 by August. A full withdrawal is scheduled to occur by the end of 2011.
Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir has arrived in Qatar to sign a temporary truce with Sudan’s largest opposition group in an attempt to end the seven-year conflict in Darfur. As part of the proposed deal, Sudan is offering government positions to members of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement. Another one of the main rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army, has refused to talk to the Sudanese government, demanding an end to all violence before negotiations begin. According to the United Nations, the seven-year conflict in Darfur has claimed some 300,000 lives and left 2.7 million refugees.
In a rare sign of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, five Republican senators broke ranks with their party on Monday to advance a $15 billion job-creation measure put forward by Democrats. Senator Scott Brown, the newly elected Republican from Massachusetts, was the first member of his party to cast his vote for the measure. The bill focuses mostly on tax breaks for companies to encourage hiring. The bill has come under criticism by the Congressional Black Caucus for not directing any money to poor communities. Black lawmakers had sought a job bill where ten percent of the money in each of its provisions go to communities where at least 20 percent of the people are low-income.
In other economic news, the New York State Comptroller has revealed Wall Street bonuses increased by 17 percent this year. Thomas DiNapoli said over $20 billion in bonuses were handed out. The bonuses come just a year after many of the same Wall Street firms were bailed out by taxpayers.
President Barack Obama is trying to revive his stalled healthcare reform effort. On Monday the White House released an eleven-page document outlining what the President would like to see in the heathcare bill, including the expansion of coverage to millions of people who are uninsured, while taking steps to control soaring healthcare costs. The President’s plan does not include a “public option” for a government-run plan. Obama will push the proposal at a bipartisan healthcare summit on Thursday. The White House is now urging Republicans to publish their own healthcare reform plan prior to the meeting.
An Afghan immigrant pleaded guilty on Monday to planning a suicide bomb attack on New York City subways last September. Twenty-five-year-old Najibullah Zazi admitted in Brooklyn federal court that he had received bomb-making and weapons training from al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s Waziristan region. Zazi said the attack was designed to “bring attention to what the United States military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan.”
Attorney General Eric Holder: “Zazi has admitted that he brought explosives to New York City on September 10, 2009, and that he and others intended to detonate them on board the New York City subway system. This was one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September the 11th, 2001, and were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it could have been devastating. This attempted attack on our homeland was real. It was in motion. And it would have been deadly.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said the case proved the criminal justice system is an invaluable tool to incapacitate terrorists, to gain intelligence and to fight against terrorism. At least four other suspects have been charged in connection with the case: Najibullah Zazi’s father, a New York City imam, and two of his high school classmates from Queens.
The Environmental Protection Agency is delaying plans to force power plants, oil refineries and other industrial polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions until at least 2011. The EPA also said it won’t target small emitters of greenhouse gas emissions until 2016. In December, the EPA announced it will draft regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Since then, the agency has faced harsh criticism from lawmakers from states that rely on coal mining and electricity generated from fossil fuels. On Monday, Democratic Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia pressed for legislation to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Democratic Senators Max Baucus of Montana and Carl Levin of Michigan have also opposed the EPA’s plan to regulate emissions. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson will be testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today.
The Department of Energy has offered a $1.4 billion loan guarantee to a California company planning to build a large-scale solar power plant in the Southern California desert. The loan guarantee would go to a company called Bright Source Energy, which is backed by Google, Morgan Stanley, Chevron and BP. The solar plant will be built by Bechtel. The loan guarantee is the largest ever given by the Energy Department for a solar power project, but it is just one-sixth of the size of the $8.3 billion loan guarantee pledged by the department last week for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth is fighting in court to prevent the proposed construction of a new nuclear reactor in the state of South Carolina. The South Carolina state supreme court has announced a hearing will be held on March 4th in response to a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth.
Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal probe into Toyota’s safety problems. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records from Toyota related to unintended acceleration in its vehicles and the braking system of its Prius hybrid. The Securities and Exchange Commission has also subpoenaed documents from Toyota. Toyota President Akio Toyoda is scheduled to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Longtime consumer advocate Joan Claybrook said the congressional probe should also examine the role played by federal regulators.
Joan Claybrook: “The regulators also are there to protect the American people, and if the company misbehaves, that’s when the regulators take action. Here they didn’t take action, and then Toyota boasts about it when they’re doing briefings in their Washington office of their Japanese officials and say that they saved the company $100 million by avoiding a big recall and doing instead just what’s called an equipment recall for the floor mats. So I think that Toyota has been exposed, and they have to eat crow. I think there’s a lot that’s going to go on at this congressional hearing that requires an explanation by both Toyota and by the Department of Transportation, which didn’t do its job either.”
More than forty people have been arrested in Turkey in connection with an alleged plot to trigger a military takeover of the Islamic-rooted government. The detained include three of Turkey’s highest-ranking former generals. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said fourteen other former high-ranking military officers were also detained. The arrests have been described as one of the toughest actions against the powerful Turkish military in the history of modern Turkey. The generals are accused of plotting several plots on civilian targets, including a mosque in central Istanbul, and to provoke a crisis with neighboring Greece, with a goal of paving the way for a coup. The Turkish military has ousted four governments over the past half century.
A Polish governmental agency has confirmed secret CIA flights landed in Poland as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Poland has long been accused of housing a secret CIA prison, but the government has denied the allegations. On Monday, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency released flight logs that show at least six flights linked to the CIA landed in Poland between February and September 2003.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky plan to introduce legislation today to phase out the military’s controversial use of private security contractors in war zones . The Stop Outsourcing Security Act would also require that all diplomatic security be undertaken by US government personnel.
And here in New York, a police officer accused of using a baton to sodomize a man in a subway station has been acquitted along with two officers who allegedly covered up the incident. Attorneys for the man said they will now seek a federal probe into the incident.