A federal judge has ruled the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward gay and lesbian members of the military is unconstitutional. In her decision, Judge Virginia Phillips wrote the policy “infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways.” Judge Phillips said she will issue an injunction that will halt the enforcement of the policy that allows gay men and lesbian to serve in the armed forces as long as they do not disclose their orientation and do not engage in homosexual acts. The lawsuit was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest gay Republican political organization. Although President Obama campaigned to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Justice Department defended the law during a two-week trial in Riverside, California. The government has not announced if it plans to appeal the ruling.
The Guardian newspaper reports twelve US soldiers face charges over forming a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies. Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for fun in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses. All of the soldiers are members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the father of one of the men charged has told the Associated Press he tried nearly a half dozen times to pass an urgent message from his son to the Army that troops in his unit had murdered an Afghan civilian and planned more killings. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell addressed the charges on Thursday.
Geoff Morrell: “I don’t believe the allegations here against these few individuals are representative of the behavior or the attitudes of the entire force. That said, it clearly, even if these allegations are proved to be untrue, is unhelpful. It does not help the — you know, the perceptions of our forces around the world. And so, the sad part about this is, even if these individuals are vindicated, even if they’re not true, the damage will have been done.”
The pastor of a small Christian church in Florida has apparently put off plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Pastor Terry Jones is said to only have fifty members in his church, but he has been at the center of the world’s attention for the past week. Jones made the announcement shortly after Defense Secretary Robert Gates phoned him from the Pentagon and told him that the event would put US soldiers at risk in Afghanistan and Iraq. During a televised news conference, Jones said his decision to cancel “Burn a Koran Day” came as part of a deal in which the backers of a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan agreed to move the center farther away from Ground Zero.
Terry Jones: “The American people do not want the mosque there, and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Quran. The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday, and on Saturday I will be flying up there to meet with him.”
Soon after the news conference Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and a developer behind the proposed Islamic center denied Jones’s claim about a possible deal. Jones then responded by saying he is now rethinking his decision to put off the Quran burning. Earlier on Thursday, President Obama discussed the controversy during an interview on ABC.
President Obama: “I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat” —
George Stephanopoulos: “What more could happen?”
Obama: — “that he’s making.”
Stephanopoulos: “What are you worried about?”
Obama: “Well, look, this is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
The Iranian government has announced plans to release Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained fourteen months ago. The thirty-two-year-old Shourd has been kept in solitary confinement for the past year, and her mother says she is suffering from medical problems, including precancerous cervical cells and a breast lump. Shourd is expected to be released on Saturday. There has been no word on the possible release of the other two hikers, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal. The Iranian government has accused all three of espionage
A Philadelphia federal appeals court has struck down a law in the Pennsylvania city of Hazleton aimed at barring undocumented immigrants from working or renting homes there. The court said the local laws violated federal prerogatives on immigration issues. Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, praised the ruling.
Witold Walczak: “Four years ago, Hazleton passed the first law in the country attempting to drive out unlawful immigrants, and this sparked a wave of copycat laws across the country that tore communities apart along ethnic lines. And today’s decision is a pointed repudiation of such local anti-immigration laws and a warning, should serve as a warning to other communities.”
The New York Times reports Pentagon officials are negotiating to buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir they say contains intelligence secrets. The book, Operation Dark Heart, was written by Anthony Shaffer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. Army reviewers originally signed off on the book’s publication, but the Defense Intelligence Agency later identified more than 200 passages suspected of containing classified information. The book reportedly includes Shaffer’s accounts of clandestine operations, including eavesdropping operations by the National Security Agency.
In Pakistan, the US has carried out at least four drones strikes in the past two days in what has been one of the most intense barrage of drone attacks since President Obama took office. All of the strikes targeted sites in the North Waziristan region.
In Somalia, at least fourteen people died Thursday in a series of bomb blasts at the main airport in Mogadishu. The victims included African Union forces. The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility. Over the last two weeks, at least 230 civilians have been killed and over 400 others wounded in Somalia.
Rape survivors in the village of Luvungi in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun describing the recent horrors they suffered when rebel forces mass-raped hundreds of women over a two-month period. Zaina Nyangoma is one of the rape survivors who has talked about her ordeal.
Zaina Nyangoma: “After they raped us, they would walk out, and we would do our best to escape into the bush. And sometimes we would have to crawl on the ground, while they would rape others until dawn. They would also sometimes follow us into the bush or wherever we were hiding at night, and if we were found, they would then rape us again. And that’s how they managed to rape all the women of Luvungi.”
In economic news, President Barack Obama has reportedly chosen one of his longtime economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers. Goolsbee will replace Christina Romer, who left the administration last week. Goolsbee is considered a centrist, pro-free trader economist.
In media news, the Spanish-language network Univision made history last week when it pulled in the nation’s highest ratings for television viewers between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine. It marks the first time Univision has ever had higher ratings in this key demographic than the nation’s English-language networks. Univision also beat all the English-language networks in the month of July among viewers aged eighteen to thirty-four.
And peace rallies and interfaith vigils are being held across the country this weekend to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and to condemn Islamophobia. Here in New York, a coalition of more than 100 civic, religious, civil liberties and civil rights organizations will host a vigil tonight supporting religious freedom. On Saturday, the Emergency Mobilization Against Racism and Anti-Islamic Bigotry will hold a rally near City Hall in New York just blocks from the proposed site of a new Islamic cultural center. In Florida, the Gainesville Muslim Initiative is hosting an interfaith candlelight vigil for peace. The Network of Spiritual Progressives, which is chaired by Rabbi Michael Lerner, is calling on members to organize interfaith public readings of the Quran. Here in New York, Hesham El-Meligy is a member of the Building Bridges Coalition, which is organizing a rally in New York on Saturday.
Hesham El-Meligy: “I did not want to do anything on that day except having a respectful, solemn observation with the families and other people of conscience in America and around the world. Unfortunately, I cannot let people with agendas to attack and marginalize the Muslim community, have an open platform, without all of us, people of conscience, standing up together and upholding American values of respect, tolerance, unity, freedom of religion. This is why we’re coming on September 11th and doing this. There is no other way except that we had to. Somebody had to stand up for these American values.”