The US has authorized a major expansion of clandestine military operations abroad that includes intelligence gathering for a possible attack on Iran. According to the New York Times, the top US commander in the Middle East, General David Petraeus, issued a secret directive in September broadening the role of Special Operations forces throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. The Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order calls for intelligence gathering and building ties with local forces to counter militant groups opposed to the United States. It also allows intelligence missions in Iran that could pave the way for US military strikes. The authorized Iran operations include finding dissident groups that could support a potential US attack. The New York Times says it withheld details on how US troops would be deployed in some countries at the request of the Pentagon.
British Petroleum is preparing a new attempt to contain its Gulf of Mexico oil spill amidst fears the well could continue leaking hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil a day at least through August. BP says it will carry out a “top kill” operation on Wednesday which involves pumping fluids to cap the well. But the company estimates only a 70 percent chance of success at best, raising the prospects of at least a three-month period before the leak is stopped. On Monday, BP CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged the company’s efforts have failed so far.
BP CEO Tony Hayward: “It’s clear that the defense of the shoreline at this point has not been successful, and I feel devastated by that, absolutely gutted. But what I can tell you is that we are here for the long haul, we are going to clean every drop of oil off the shore, we will remediate any environmental damage, and we will put the Gulf Coast right and back to normality as fast as we can.”
The Obama administration has threatened to sideline BP in the clean-up effort but continues to defer to the company for now. In a visit to the Gulf Coast, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the government will maintain pressure on BP.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: “I want to make it very clear: under the law, BP is the responsible party. BP is charged with capping their leaking oil well and paying for the response and for the recovery without limitation. They will be held accountable. We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done.”
As the Obama administration promises more scrutiny of BP, new details have emerged of the government’s lax oversight of Gulf of Mexico oil drilling in the years before the spill. The New York Times reports a forthcoming inspector general investigation has found that federal regulators at the Minerals Management Service allowed industry officials to fill out their own inspection reports. The regulators then traced over the industry officials’ writing in pen and submitted the forms as their own. In another case, an MMS official conducted inspections of drilling platforms at the same time as he was negotiating a job with the drilling company involved. The probe also found that officials at the MMS field office in Louisiana repeatedly accepted gifts from at least one oil and gas company.
A group of Democratic senators, meanwhile, are calling for a probe into recent shareholder payouts by the Swiss company operating the oil rig that exploded before the spill. The company, Transocean, recently approved $1 billion in shareholder dividends. The senators want the Justice Department to probe whether the payments are legitimate when the company might be facing financial liability for the spill. The eleven victims of Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion will be honored today at a memorial service in Jackson, Mississippi.
In other oil spill news, seven activists with the environmental group Greenpeace were arrested Monday in a direct action oppose offshore drilling. Two of the activists scaled a drilling supply ship that’s set to sail from Louisiana to Alaska for an exploratory offshore drilling operation run by the oil giant Shell. Using oil taken from the BP spill in the Gulf, the activists painted a message on the bridge of the ship reading, “Arctic Next?”
The number of US troops in Afghanistan now exceeds the number in Iraq for the first time. The Pentagon says 94,000 US troops are deployed in the occupation of Afghanistan, 2,000 more than in Iraq. The US force in Afghanistan has more than tripled since President Obama took office in January 2009.
Democratic Congress member Alan Grayson of Florida, meanwhile, has introduced a bill that would end funding of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq outside of the regular Pentagon budget. Grayson unveiled the “War is Making You Poor Act” on the House floor last week.
Rep. Alan Grayson: “It requires the administration to carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only — that’s 'only' — the $549 billion set forth in the President’s budget for defense spending, without the additional $159 billion the President has asked for, for the sake of the so-called emergency war, which now stretches on to nine years in one case and seven years in the other.”
The measure calls for directing the savings from ending so-called “emergency” war spending toward a tax cut.
The Obama administration is backing a compromise deal between lawmakers and the Pentagon on repealing the military ban on openly gay servicemembers known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The compromise would pave the way for a congressional vote to repeal the ban, but no changes would take effect until the Pentagon completes a lengthy review on the repeal’s impact. President Obama would also have to certify the repeal wouldn’t harm US military readiness. The review is due to Congress by December 1st.
The Supreme Court has ruled employers who give discriminatory tests to job applicants can be sued whenever the results factor into hiring decisions. Monday’s ruling came in the case of group of more than 6,000 African Americans against the city of Chicago. The group says a test administered by the city unfairly prevented them from being hired as firefighters.
New allegations have emerged of war crimes during the Sri Lankan military’s crushing of the Tamil Tiger rebellion last year. The British television network Channel 4 says it interviewed a senior Sri Lankan military commander and a front line soldier who each claim top military leaders ordered the killings of Tamil prisoners.
Unidentified #1: “Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone.”
Unidentified #2: “Definitely the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off. I don’t think we wanted to keep any hardcore elements, so they were done away with. It’s clear that such orders were in fact received from the top.”
Reporter: “What happened when the LTTE and their families surrendered with white flag?”
Unidentified #1: “First we arrested them, tortured them, then killed them. In the final days, we straight killed them. A lot of people died. A lot of bodies were there. Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone.”
The two former Sri Lankan military members are said to now be in hiding. A recent report from the International Crisis Group says tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died in the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, most as a result of Sri Lankan military shelling.
Newly disclosed figures show the US continues to fund the construction of segregated roads for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. The United Arab Emirates-based newspaper The National reports the US Agency for International Development — USAID — has financed 146 miles of West Bank roads and is set to fund another seventy-four miles this year. Palestinians are either barred from the roads entirely or face severe restrictions from using them.
A new fleet of aid ships is making its way through the Mediterranean in an attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Free Gaza Movement’s “Freedom Flotilla” consists of nine vessels carrying over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for Gaza residents. The flagship vessel departed from Ireland earlier this month and is named after the American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in March 2003. Israel is vowing to repel the flotilla after stopping 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. Israel now says it will also prevent the Freedom Flotilla from reaching Gaza.
Here in New York, nearly forty people were arrested Monday in a protest against Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant law requiring police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. Protesters including city councilors and union members linked arms and blocked traffic outside a federal building. Arrests were made at a similar rally outside the same building last week.
An Iraq war veteran has committed suicide in front of a veterans hospital in Dayton, Ohio. Jesse Charles Huff shot himself with a rifle in front of the Veterans Affairs Department’s Medical Center last month. Huff had been denied unspecified treatment at the hospital just hours earlier. The father of Huff’s former roommate says he thinks Huff killed himself in part to make a statement about the inadequate medical care he received as an injured veteran. Huff was wounded by a bombing in Iraq and had been undergoing treatment for a back injury and depression.
And in Oakland, environmental activists gathered on Monday to mark the twentieth anniversary of the car bombing of Earth First members Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. Bari and Cherney nearly died when a bomb exploded in their vehicle. They were in the midst of organizing a major Redwood Summer action that brought thousands of activists to California to protest destructive logging practices. In what many saw as a deliberate smear campaign, the FBI arrested the two and accused them of being victims of their own misfired bombs. Bari and Cherney later sued the FBI and won over $4 million in damages. Bari died before receiving justice in the case — the attack had left her nearly crippled, and she lived in constant pain before dying in 1997 of breast cancer.