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The CIA has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks. According to the New York Times, the CIA has launched at least twenty attacks with armed drone aircraft so far in September, the most ever during a single month. According to one Pakistani intelligence official, the recent drone attacks have not killed any senior Taliban or al-Qaeda leaders. Many senior operatives have already fled the region to escape the CIA drone campaign.
US Apache attack helicopters have carried out at least three air strikes inside Pakistan in recent days, killing more than seventy alleged militants. Pakistan criticized the NATO operation, saying the attack helicopters illegally entered Pakistani air space, but Pentagon officials said the strikes were done in self-defense. While the US regularly uses pilotless drone aircraft for missile strikes in Pakistan, manned military flights across the border have been rare up until now.
A US soldier charged with murdering civilians and other crimes in Afghanistan made his first court appearance on Monday. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock is the first of twelve US soldiers accused of forming a secret “kill team” in Afghanistan that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies. Earlier this year, Morlock was interviewed by Army investigators and acknowledged his role in the deaths of the three Afghans. Video of part of Morlock’s confession to Army investigators has been leaked to the media. In the video, Morlock admits Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs ordered him to kill an innocent unarmed Afghan civilian.
Jeremy Morlock: “And then he kind of placed me and [Spc. Adam] Winfield off over here, so we had a clean line of sight for this guy. And, you know, he pulled out one of his grenades, American grenade, popped it, throws the grenade, and then tells me and Winfield, 'Alright, wax this guy. Kill this guy, kill this guy.'”
Investigator: “Did you see him present any weapons? Or did he —- was he aggressive at you at all? Did he -—”
Jeremy Morlock: “No, not at all. Nothing.
Jeremy Morlock: “He wasn’t a threat.”
On Monday, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock’s attorney defended his client.
Michael Waddington: “First of all, he did not cause the death of any of those individuals. And he was present, as was everyone else in that platoon, at the time of all those shootings. But many of the individuals went along for the ride. They didn’t really have a choice. If your sergeant says, ’Let’s go to this village. We’re going to sweep through this village,” and he throws a grenade at someone, and he threatens you that if you don’t — if you’re not on his team, and you’re a possible snitch, and you’re going to get beaten or killed by him, then you’re going to role-play along with it.”
The Army is attempting to prevent the release of dozens of photographs that reportedly show Jeremy Morlock and other soldiers posing with the murdered Afghan civilians. A top Army official recently ordered that any images of dead or wounded Afghans may not be made public during Morlock’s hearing.
Israeli commandos have boarded and seized a Gaza-bound aid ship carrying nine Jewish activists. The ship was apprehended by the Israeli navy just miles off the coast of Gaza. Navy commandos boarded the vessel and led the passengers off the boat. The activists said they were attempting to take to Gaza a symbolic load of medicine, a water-purifying kit and other humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council was told on Monday that Israeli troops broke international law by storming a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza in May.
Karl Hudson-Phillips, Chair of the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission: “The mission considers that the conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers were disproportionate and excessive and that they represented levels of totally unnecessary violence. This resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and severe injuries to many. The mission finds that serious violations of both humanitarian and human rights law occurred during and after this incident.”
Newly released Census data shows the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record. The top earning 20 percent of Americans received more than 49 percent of all income generated in the country in 2009. The income gap has nearly doubled since 1968. The US has the greatest income disparity among Western industrialized nations. Despite the growing income gap, Senate Democrats last week put off a vote on whether to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy until after the midterm election. A recent Associated Press poll found that 54 percent of Americans support raising taxes on the highest US earners.
In technology news, the Obama administration is pushing Congress to make it easier for federal authorities to wiretap online communications including emails, Facebook postings and internet phone calls. The New York Times reports officials want Congress to require all services that enable online communications to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order in order to give the federal government the ability to intercept and unscramble any encrypted message sent over the internet.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities Monday to condemn the FBI for raiding eight homes and offices of antiwar activists last week. Outside the FBI office in Chicago, protesters held signs reading “Freedom to Dissent” and “One Nation Under Surveillance.” Targets of Friday’s raids included Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago.
In other FBI news, the Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine has revealed that a significant number of FBI agents cheated or acted improperly when taking an exam in 2008 about domestic investigations. The Justice Department has already identified twenty-two agents who cheated on the exam, but the total number is believed to be much higher.
The White House Oil Spill Commission heard testimony Monday about the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Commissioners expressed skepticism that the response to the spill was not impacted by BP and the federal government’s initial underestimation of the size of the spill. Meanwhile, Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said that the government needs to clarify the roles that federal and local governments and companies play in response to future oil spills.
Thad Allen: “Because of the uniqueness of oil and chemical spills, multi-jurisdictions, the fact that they go beyond state waters, there was a presumption in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that the federal government will coordinate this. That is not what the cities and counties and locales in the Gulf had been used to; for a large spill, they’re used to the Stafford Act structure where the resources are provided to them, and they execute them. There was a reconciliation that had to be carried out between the assumption of the role of the state and local governments, as far as executing spill response, and the responsibilities we have under the law to execute the national contingency plan and our fiduciary responsibility, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.”
In news from Latin America, Hugo Chávez’s Socialist Party has retained control of the Venezuelan parliament after Sunday’s elections. Chávez’s party won ninety-eight of the 165 seats in the National Assembly. Opposition parties won sixty-five seats. Both camps have claimed the election results are a victory for their side.
A prominent opposition lawmaker in Colombia has been kicked out of the Senate and barred from public service for eighteen years. Colombia’s Inspector General has ousted Senator Piedad Córdoba from office for allegedly aiding members of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Córdoba has been a leading critic of former Colombia president Álvaro Uribe and the US-backed drug war in Colombia. Despite the allegations, she has never been charged with a crime.
Nine retired US military officers have written a letter to lawmakers calling for the US travel ban to Cuba to be lifted. The officers include Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
A federal judge has declared a mistral in the case of two former Blackwater contractors accused of murdering two unarmed Afghan civilians and wounding a third man in Kabul last year. If convicted, Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff face life in prison for the shootings.
Wired.com is reporting at least half a dozen staffers at the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks have recently resigned in a dispute with the organization’s founder Julian Assange. The website made international headlines in July when it released a huge trove of secret US military documents about the war in Afghanistan. WikiLeaks is reportedly planning to release its next batch of secret documents on October 18. This time the documents will focus on the Iraq war.
Over 100 people were arrested outside the White House on Monday in a protest calling for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining. We’ll have more on the protest later in the show.
And in Arizona, a protester was tackled by a member of Senator John McCain’s security team after she attempted to approach the senator following a debate on Sunday night. The woman was wearing a shirt that read “Do I look undocumented?”