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The Pentagon has confirmed all nine troops killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week were Americans. The crash pushed NATO casualties to at least 529 this year, making it the deadliest year for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
The US military is planning to maintain a prison at its massive Bagram Air Base even after the Afghan government is handed formal control next year. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the head of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, said the US will continue to jail people deemed "security threats" as well as prisoners brought into Afghanistan on rendition flights. In response, Clara Gutteridge of the legal charity Reprieve said, "This proposal for a US 'prison within a prison'...reveals that the operative principle at the heart of Obama’s overseas detention policy is to maintain a clear continuity with the worst practices of the Bush-era."
President Obama was heckled at a Democratic Party fundraiser Wednesday over accusations his administration has underfunded the treatment and prevention of AIDS. The hecklers held up signs reading "Broken promises" and "No retreat, fund AIDS."
President Obama: "We heard your point. And as I said before, we increased AIDS funding. Now, if you want to have a conversation later about how we can increase it even more, it’s a conversation I’m happy to have. But what I want to do is talk about what’s coming up. I want us to talk about what’s at stake in this election, because the people that potentially will take over, if we don’t focus on this election, I promise you, will cut AIDS funding, and they’ll cut every priority that you care about."
Earlier in the day, Obama appeared before the UN with a vow to reshape how the US delivers foreign aid. Obama criticized what he called an aid culture of "dependence" and said the US will encourage foreign investment as a means to spur development and sustainability.
President Obama: "Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty. We know that countries are more likely to prosper when they encourage entrepreneurship, when they invest in their infrastructure, when they expand trade and welcome investment. So we will partner with countries like Sierra Leone to create business environments that are attractive to investment."
Obama will again the address the UN with a speech before the General Assembly today. His comments on aid come as the head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has said that corporate influence is undermining sustainable development worldwide. Speaking at a farming summit in London, Dr. Samuel Jutzi said, "I have now been twenty years in a multilateral organization which tries to develop guidance and codes for good agricultural practice, but the real, true issues are not being addressed by the political process because of the influence of lobbyists, of the true powerful entities."
A high-level UN probe has recommended the prosecution of Israeli officials for the May 31st attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, a three-member panel of international jurists said there is "clear evidence to support prosecutions" for "willful killing" and torture committed during Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara. The panel says Israel’s storming of the ship "betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality" that "demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence," violating "international humanitarian and human rights law." Nine activists were killed in the attack, including a US citizen. The Human Rights Council is expected to take up the report’s findings on Monday.
Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, clashes erupted Wednesday after an Israeli security guard shot one Palestinian dead and wounded two others. The slain victim was a thirty-two-year-old man with five children. The security guard works for an Israeli settlement in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Palestinian Authority spokesperson Ghassan Khatib called the shooting a violent escalation.
Ghassan Khatib: "The killing of a Palestinian resident in Silwan in East Jerusalem represents a very dangerous Israeli violent escalation that threatens the peace efforts and can, if it continues, defeat the peace agenda."
The owners of the two factory egg farms behind the recent salmonella outbreak appeared before a House panel on Wednesday as part of a congressional probe. Orland Bethel, the president of Hillandale Farms, refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. Executives from Wright County Egg, meanwhile, apologized for the outbreak but faced new questions about hazardous and unsanitary conditions found in recent inspections at their facilities. The outbreak led to recall orders for over 500 million eggs. More than 1,500 salmonella cases were reported, but federal health officials believe the actual number could be as high as 48,000.
A former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shootings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On September 4, 2005, police officers opened fire on a group of unarmed civilians, killing two and wounding five others. The former officer, Jeffrey Lehrmann, was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty in February to helping conceal the shootings. Lehrmann is the first to be sentenced in the case and is expected to testify against other officers facing trial.
A new study shows that tens of billions of dollars in US government tax breaks and other incentives mostly went to the wealthiest Americans last year. Of nearly $400 billion in spending to spur growth in home ownership, retirement savings, business start-ups and education, more than half benefited the wealthiest five percent of taxpayers. The study was sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Corporation for Enterprise Development. The authors conclude: "We can ill afford a federal wealth-building strategy that primarily helps those who are already wealthy."
Top US officials are warning that militant plots to attack the United States are growing increasingly harder to detect. Speaking before a Senate hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said a large number of small-scale plots has made disruption more challenging.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "We are also seeing more diversity in terms of tactics. Recent events in intelligence show a trend toward, as you mentioned, Senator Collins, smaller, faster-developing plots, rather than larger, longer-term plots like 9/11. These plots may include the use of IEDs or teams who use small arms and explosives, both forms of attack that have been used abroad. The results of these changing tactics are fewer opportunities to detect and disrupt plots."
And a Florida appeals court has struck down the state’s ban on adoptions by gays and lesbian couples. On Wednesday, the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled the ban has "no rational basis." The ruling upheld a lower court’s 2008 judgment in favor of a gay man who had adopted two half-brothers he had already been raising for four years. Florida had been the only remaining state to explicitly ban adoptions by same-sex couples.
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