A wave of protest inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia continues today across the Middle East and North Africa. In Bahrain, thousands of anti-government protesters are occupying a square in the capital Manama after two days of clashes with state forces. In a rare public speech, the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has announced a probe into the shooting deaths of two protesters killed since Monday. Meanwhile, in Libya, clashes have erupted in the eastern city of Benghazi after protesters took to the streets to denounce the government of longtime ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. At least 14 people were wounded after Libyan forces tried to disperse the crowd. The protests reportedly began after family members of victims killed in a prison massacre 15 years ago rallied following the arrest of a prominent human rights lawyer. Anti-government organizers have called for more protests on Thursday. In Iran, clashes have erupted today at the funeral of a protester killed during a massive anti-government protest on Monday. And in Yemen, protests against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh are escalating as they continue for a sixth consecutive day. Earlier today, government supporters attacked pro-democracy demonstrators as they set off on a march from a university in the capital of Sana’a.
On Tuesday, President Obama addressed the protests in Iran and across the Middle East at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Comparing the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters with Egypt’s, Obama appeared to suggest the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime did not also try to violently repress the recent uprising.
President Obama: “What has been true in Egypt should be true in Iran, which is, is that people should be able to express their opinions and their grievances and seek a more responsive government. What’s been different is the Iranian government’s response, which is to shoot people and beat people and arrest people. And my hope and expectation is, is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government.”
Obama also defended his administration’s handling of the Egyptian uprising, claiming he wanted to avoid the appearance of meddling in pushing for a transition. But Obama refused to acknowledge that two top officials — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy Frank Wisner — voiced support for Mubarak’s regime.
President Obama: “What we didn’t do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt, because we can’t, so we were very mindful that it was important for this to remain an Egyptian event, that the United States did not become the issue, but that we sent out a very clear message that we believed in an orderly transition, a meaningful transition, and a transition that needed to happen not later, but sooner, and we were consistent on that message throughout.”
Egypt’s governing military council has announced new steps in its oversight of the transition from the longtime rule of former President Hosni Mubarak. The council says it will hand authority to an elected civilian government in six months. It has also instructed a legal panel to draft a revised constitution within 10 days. The eight-member committee has been tasked with redrafting six articles of the constitution and is expected to amend sections concerning presidential term limits, judicial oversight of elections, and the president’s power to make constitutional amendments and restrict civil liberties. Upon completion, the amended constitution will be put to a popular referendum. The panel includes a member of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. On Tuesday, the Brotherhood announced for the first time it will form a political party to run in parliamentary elections.
The Obama administration has unveiled a new policy it says will help protesters worldwide evade curbs to internet freedom. Drawing on the key role of online organizing in the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will help bloggers and activists evade state censorship.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We believe that governments who have erected barriers to internet freedom, whether they’re technical filters or censorship regimes or attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly online, will eventually find themselves boxed in. They will face a dictator’s dilemma and will have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing. Governments that arrest bloggers, pry into the peaceful activities of their citizens, and limit their access to the internet, may claim to be seeking security. In fact, they may even mean it as they define it. But they are taking the wrong path.”
In an unacknowledged irony, Clinton’s comments came just as government lawyers appeared in a Virginia court to argue their case for cracking down on the online whistleblower WikiLeaks. The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed the internet company Twitter for personal information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and four other people linked to WikiLeaks, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. The subpoena asks Twitter for all records and correspondence relating to their accounts, including apparently private direct messages sent through Twitter. On Tuesday, lawyers for civil rights groups argued that the subpoena should be declared unlawful and that its details should be fully disclosed.
In other WikiLeaks news, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York has introduced a measure that would target whistleblowers that publish classified information. The bill calls for amending the Espionage Act of 1917 to designate the disclosure of government sources or informants an act of espionage. A similar measure was introduced in the Senate last week.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans are vowing to push for deeper spending cuts as Congress takes up President Obama’s $3.7 trillion proposed budget. Republican leaders say Obama’s plan does not go far enough in trimming the federal deficit. The proposal includes a record base budget of $553 billion for the Pentagon as well as widespread cuts to social programs, including heating assistance for the poor. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader John Boehner sparked controversy after shrugging off the prospect that spending cuts will leave thousands of government workers unemployed. Boehner said, “So be it.” Boehner went on to add that funding for Social Security and Medicare could also be targeted, saying, “Republicans will not punt. Everything is on the table.”
An Iraqi defector whose claims were used to help build the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq has admitted for the first time that he lied. In an interview with The Guardian of London, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi — codenamed “Curveball” — says he fabricated tales of mobile biological weapons laboratories and other secret sites under Saddam Hussein. Janabi says he was hoping to topple Saddam Hussein’s government and was “shocked” when his claims were cited in then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations eight years ago. Top Bush administration officials insisted on highlighting Janabi’s claims despite widespread doubts amongst U.S. intelligence.
Over a dozen U.S. veterans have filed a class action lawsuit seeking to force the Pentagon to reform its handling of sexual abuse. The group of more than a dozen women and two men each claim to have been victimized by rape and other abuses within the military. The suit alleges that sexual crimes generally go unpunished and that victims are often forced to continue serving alongside the perpetrators. One of the plaintiffs, Kori Cioca of the U.S. Coast Guard, told her story to the Associated Press.
Kori Cioca: “Well, long story short, I was raped. When I told my command, they waited. They didn’t do anything to help me. It’s like they didn’t care, it wasn’t important — I wasn’t important. The Coast Guard is the life-saving service, yet they didn’t save mine.”
In another case, an Army Reservist says two male servicemembers raped her in Iraq, left her with severe bruises, and then distributed a videotape of the attack. The reservist says no charges were filed after their commander concluded she “did not act like a rape victim” and “did not struggle enough” on the tape. The lawsuit calls for creation of an independent third party to handle sexual abuse complaints instead of military commanders.
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan has been hospitalized after suffering a brutal beating and sexual assault during the Egyptian uprising. Logan was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday when she came under attack. CBS says Logan was rescued by a group of Egyptian women and soldiers and is now recuperating back in the United States.
New figures show rising food prices have pushed a record 44 million people into poverty worldwide since last June. The World Bank says food prices have reached “dangerous levels” in some countries. The food price index has increased 15 percent — just 3 percent lower than the 2008 peak that led to riots in more than a dozen countries.
A U.S. customs official has been killed and another wounded in a roadside attack in northern Mexico. Government officials say the two were driving in an armored car with diplomatic plates on a well-traveled highway between Mexico City and Monterrey when they were forced off the road and surrounded by a group of 10 assailants.
President Obama has awarded 15 people with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Recipients include Democratic Congress member and civil rights activist John Lewis, the poet Maya Angelou, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and former President George H.W. Bush.
President Obama: “When you look at the men and women who are here today, it says something about who we are as a people. When we award this medal to a Congressman John Lewis, it says that we aspire to be a more just, more equal, more perfect union. When we award it to a Jasper Johns, it says we value the original and the imaginative. When we award it to a Warren Buffett, it says we’d all like to be so humble and wise and maybe make a little money along the way. And when we award it to former President George H.W. Bush, it says we celebrate an extraordinary life of service and of sacrifice.”
Protests are continuing in Wisconsin over a bill that would eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for public workers and slash their pay and benefits. On Tuesday, an estimated 10,000 people gathered at the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. Protests were also held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and high schools around the state. In a statement, Wisconsin’s professional football team, the community-owned Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, backed the workers’ right to collective bargaining, saying: “Wisconsin’s long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s … These public workers are Wisconsin’s champions every single day and we urge the governor and the State Legislature to not take away their rights.”