At least four unarmed civilians have been killed by NATO troops in Afghanistan. The victims were traveling in a vehicle in eastern Khost province Monday when a NATO convoy opened fire. The dead were identified as a twelve-year-old boy, an Afghan police officer, and two shopkeepers from a local bazaar. In a statement, the US-led NATO force said the victims were two “known insurgents” and their “associates” but didn’t offer proof and also didn’t dispute Afghan claims they were unarmed. The shooting comes one week after US troops killed five Afghan civilians and wounded eighteen others after firing on a passenger bus near Kandahar.
Argentina’s last dictator has been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for the kidnapping and torture of dissidents under the Argentine military regime. On Tuesday, Reynaldo Bignone and five other former military officers were convicted for over fifty cases of human rights abuses at the notorious Campo de Mayo military prison. Bignone headed the Argentina junta from 1982 to 1983 but was convicted for crimes during his time as commander at Campo de Mayo.
The Iraqi government is facing allegations of running a secret prison where Sunni prisoners have been tortured in Baghdad. The Los Angeles Times reported this week over 100 Sunni prisoners were subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and suffocation with plastic bags at the prison. The prisoners were detained by the Shiite-dominant Iraqi military in a northern province last year. The alleged abuses only came to light last month after family members spent several months looking for the prisoners.
The Israeli government is warning it will resist any US effort to impose a peace settlement to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. There has been recent speculation President Obama will push forward his own peace plan if Israel continues to expand West Bank settlements and reject final-status talks. On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a warning to the US and repeated Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem. Lieberman spoke as Israel marked its 62nd independence day.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “Any attempt to force a solution on the parties without establishing a foundation of mutual trust will only deepen the conflict. Peace cannot be enforced; it must be built. It is our right to reaffirm on the day of our rededication of our national independence, that the city, north and south, east and west, is entirely under Israel’s sovereignty, our eternal capital city. It cannot be divided and will never again be divided, neither directly nor indirectly.”
In other Mideast news, a coalition of activist groups has announced it will try to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip with a fleet of eight ships next month. The Free Gaza Movement says over 600 passengers will attempt to reach the port of Gaza and deliver supplies barred under the Israeli blockade. The flagship vessel will depart from Ireland and will be named after the American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in March 2003. Israel has stopped at least three Free Gaza sailings since January 2009. One Free Gaza ship almost sunk after being deliberately rammed by an Israeli vessel. Israel intercepted another ship in international waters and arrested all of its passengers. Another ship was forced to turn back after the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board.
The World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth has begun here in Bolivia. On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the summit with a call for the creation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal at the United Nations and the passage of a UN Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Morales said he called the summit in part to address the failure of the world’s richest countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “We are gathered here because the so-called developed countries didn’t meet their obligation of establishing substantial commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen. If those countries had respected the Kyoto Protocol and had agreed to substantially reduce the emissions inside their borders, this conference would not be necessary.”
Brazil has sold off the rights to build a massive hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rain forest amidst legal wrangling and heavy protest from indigenous groups. An auction went ahead Tuesday after a Brazilian court overturned a lower court’s attempt to delay the bidding in order to weigh environmental concerns. Opponents say the dam will devastate tens of thousands of indigenous Amazonian residents and threaten wildlife. Indigenous activist Antonia Melo said the dam’s approval will lead to intensified protest.
Antonia Melo: “This is a deadly project, a project which isn’t socially, environmentally or economically viable. We would like to say that we will keep resisting, and from now in a much stronger way.”
The Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs has announced a 90 percent increase in quarterly profits. On Tuesday, Goldman posted a $3.5 billion profit for the first quarter and said it’s setting aside over $5 billion in employee compensation. Meanwhile, regulators in Britain have opened a formal investigation of Goldman for selling a mortgage investment that was established to fail. The Securities and Exchange Commission brought a civil suit accusing Goldman of securities fraud in the case last week.
In Washington, DC, at least six people were arrested Tuesday in a protest against the ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers in the military. The protesters handcuffed themselves to the fence in front of the White House. The group included Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay servicemember who’s faced discharge since publicly defying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last year. Choi was arrested in a similar action in front of the White House last month. The protest came one day after gay rights activists confronted President Obama as he addressed a fundraiser for California Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles. The activists urged Obama to carry out his vow to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Obama responded by insisting he will eventually fulfill his pledge.
President Obama: “What the young man was talking about was we need to — we need to repeal 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' which I agree with and which we have begun to do. But let me say this: You know, when you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me, who are standing for the same thing, then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you. All right?”
The Supreme Court has struck down a 1999 federal law barring depictions of animal cruelty. In an 8-to-1 ruling, the Court said the law violates constitutional guarantees of free speech. The Obama administration had asked the Court to factor in the protection of animal rights and had insisted it would only enforce the statute against acts of “extreme cruelty.”
The Pentagon is facing calls to cancel a scheduled appearance by a leading evangelist over previous comments denigrating the Islamic religion. The evangelist, Franklin Graham, has been invited to speak at the Pentagon on May 6th, the National Day of Prayer. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Graham said Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion.” A spokesperson says Graham hasn’t changed those views. Graham is the son of the well-known evangelist Billy Graham.
And the civil rights leader Dorothy Height has died at the age of ninety-eight. Height served as president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, where she fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women. During the 1960s she organized Wednesdays in Mississippi, which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. She worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other prominent civil rights activists. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. In 2005, Dorothy Height spoke at the public memorial for the civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Dorothy Height: “I think it’s up to all of us to know that what Rosa Parks started, what the civil rights movement achieved, was a great deal — we’ve made progress. But we have a long way to go. And we need that same spirit. And each of us, from this celebration, should remember Rosa Parks, and her message would certainly be: 'You are a child of God. You can make a difference.' Thank you.”
Meanwhile, in Memphis, another prominent civil rights figure, Benjamin Hooks, will be buried today following his death last week at the age of eighty-five. Hooks led the NAACP from 1977 to 1992. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2007.