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The Free Gaza Movement’s remaining humanitarian aid ship is expected to reach the Gaza coastline in the next day. The MV Rachel Corrie is continuing its mission in the face of Israeli vows to thwart its passage following the attack on the other six ships in the Freedom Flotilla earlier this week. Named after the slain US peace activist, passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie include Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former United Nations deputy secretary-general Denis Halliday.
Up to 20,000 people gathered in Istanbul on Thursday to pay tribute to the nine activists killed in the attack. The coffins were carried through central Istanbul draped in Turkish and Palestinian flags. The youngest of the nine victims was nineteen-year-old US citizen Furkan Dogan. Dogan was born in Troy, New York and moved to Turkey when he was two years old. An autopsy showed he was shot at close range, once in the chest and four times in the head.
As the dead are laid to rest, survivors of the flotilla attack continue to speak out about the assault on the Mavi Marmara. After returning to London, British peace activist and flotilla passenger Sarah Colborne said Israeli troops ignored SOS calls from the passengers aboard the ship.
Sarah Colborne: "We wrote a sign in Hebrew saying, 'SOS! Need medical assistance. People are dying. Urgent.' Hanin Zoabi, who’s a Knesset member, an Israeli Knesset member, took that sign to the front — to the back of the boat, where the soldiers were pointing at her. They ordered her to go back."
Colborne says she also witnessed Israeli troops shooting unarmed passengers and handcuffing medics accompanying the aid mission.
The Israeli military, meanwhile, has been forced to retract its claim that passengers aboard the flotilla were agents of al-Qaeda. An Israel Defense Forces press release sent out two days after the assault says approximately forty flotilla passengers "are mercenaries belonging to the Al Qaeda terror organization." The independent journalist Max Blumenthal says both he and an Israeli colleague asked the Israeli military press office to substantiate its claim. No evidence was provided, and one day later the press released was modified. The original headline was changed from "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found to be Al Qaeda Mercenaries" to "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found Without Identification Papers." Commenting on the retraction, Blumenthal writes, "The more Israel’s claims about the flotilla’s terrorist links are challenged, the more they fall apart."
Israel continues to face worldwide protest over the flotilla assault. In Sweden, the Swedish Dockers’ Union has announced a more-than-week-long boycott of all ships and goods originating from or destined to Israel. We’ll have more on the flotilla assault after headlines.
BP has managed to place a cap over its deep-sea oil well after shearing off the ruptured pipe, but there’s no word yet on whether the effort will succeed. It was the latest attempt to contain the spill following several failed operations.
The effort comes amidst warnings the oil spill is likely to extend thousands of miles up the Atlantic ocean as early as next summer. The National Center for Atmospheric Research issued the prediction based on a detailed computer modeling study. Researchers say the spill could move as far as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, before hitting the open Atlantic Ocean.
A newly released report, meanwhile, shows the federal government could still be drastically underestimating the size of the spill. Last week the government estimated the well is spewing between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day. But according to the Huffington Post, the Department of Interior’s "Flow Rate Technical Group" now says those figures represent the lower range of "lower bounds" using conservative estimates.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Center for Public Integrity released a report showing the Coast Guard knew within twenty-four hours of the April explosion that the rig’s blowout preventer had failed and that the spill could have reached as high as 8,000 barrels a day, a larger figure than officials disclosed at the time.
The widow of one of the eleven victims of the rig explosion that triggered the spill has revealed her late husband expressed concern over safety conditions shortly before his death. In an interview with NBC News, Shelley Anderson said her husband, Jason, took steps to ensure his family would be prepared should anything happen to him.
Shelley Anderson: "Everything seemed to be pressing to Jason about getting things in order, in case something happened, teaching me how to do certain things on the motor home so that I could go and do things with the kids and make sure that I knew how to do everything. They were getting pressure from someplace higher up to do things that maybe weren’t exactly the way Jason thought that they should be."
Reporter: "Weren’t as safe as they should be?"
Shelley Anderson: "It was a safety issue, right."
The Huffington Post is reporting BP has hired at least twenty-seven lobbyists who formerly worked in Congress or the executive branch. The hirings all came in the first three months of this year, before the April spill. BP spent $3.8 million on lobbying the federal government during the same period.
In other spill news, more than 200 Alabama prisoners have been hired to assist in the cleanup effort. The Alabama Department of Corrections says nearly 150 prisoners will have been trained in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response by the end of this week.
The Washington Post has revealed new details of the Obama administration’s expansion of covert military operations abroad. Special Operations forces are now deployed in seventy-five countries, compared to sixty at the start of last year. US commanders are said to be planning for increased operations in Somalia. Plans for military strikes in several regions have been developed in the event of attacks or the discovery of terror plots. Describing the changes under the Obama administration since President George W. Bush left office, an unnamed military official said, "They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly."
A senior United Nations official has unveiled a report calling on the Obama administration to halt or scale back CIA drone strikes on alleged militant suspects in Pakistan. In a briefing to the UN Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, stopped short of declaring the drone strikes in violation of international law. But Alston said the drone strikes are undermining the "principle of international accountability."
UN Rapporteur Philip Alston: "Because this program remains shrouded in official secrecy, the international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed. In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated."
Former President George W. Bush has admitted the US waterboarded the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Speaking before a corporate audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bush also said he would authorize the waterboarding again in order "to save lives." The Obama administration has declared waterboarding a form of torture and banned its use.
A new study says Wall Street lobbyists continue to draw large numbers from former lawmakers and government officials. According to the groups Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics, over 1,400 former members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers and federal employees have registered as financial sector lobbyists since 2009. The number includes at least seventy-three former lawmakers and 148 ex-staffers connected to the House or Senate banking committees. More than forty lobbyists formerly worked for the Treasury Department.
The Guardian of London is reporting that seven of the eight countries comprising the G8, including the United States, are preparing to abandon their pledge to double aid to poor African countries by this year. A draft agreement leaked ahead of this month’s G20 summit omits any mention of the 2005 Gleneagles summit pledge to provide Africa with an additional $25 billion in annual aid. Max Lawson of the British charity Oxfam said, "It is a scandal that the G8 are trying to quietly drop the promise they made to the world when millions campaigned to make poverty history."
And a leading activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been found dead following repeated threats on his life. Floribert Chebeya was head of the national network of Congolese human rights organizations and the group Voice of the Voiceless. His body was found in a car some time after he was due to meet with a top police official. Chebeya had faced harassment from police and government officials for his work against corruption and state-backed killings. The United Nations is calling for an independent probe. The UN rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, says Chebeya’s death "strongly suggests official responsibility" from the DRC government. Here in New York, I spoke to author, playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who has worked against widespread rape in the Eastern Congo.
Eve Ensler: "We have to wonder where is the world community and where are the promises that were promised by the United States government, by Secretary Clinton, by the Obama administration. And I think it’s really important that all of us wake up to the fact that hundreds, thousands of people are still being murdered and raped in the Congo, and their deaths are not being seen and being recognized anywhere, really."
Ensler and other activists are planning a rally outside the United Nations later today.
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