Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi continues to unleash a wave of violence as he struggles to wipe out a growing uprising against his rule. Reports continue to emerge of scores of human rights abuses by pro-Gaddafi forces. A number of people were reportedly killed today when Libyan forces attacked a mosque in the town of Az Zawiyah. The overall death toll remains unknown, but Italy’s Foreign Minister reports more than 1,000 people may have died so far. According to eyewitness accounts, Tripoli’s airport has been overrun with Libyans desperately trying to flee their country. Most of eastern Libya is now under opposition control. In western Libya, anti-government protesters have taken control of Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city about 130 miles from the capital city of Tripoli. In the eastern town of Tobruk, residents celebrated after taking control.
Protester: “These people just want their freedom. These people just want to live a normal life. We just want water. We just want electricity. We just want to live a normal life. We want to go to school. We want to have normal lives, as everyone else is living in the whole world. My brothers are being killed in other cities. My sisters are being killed. Massacres are happening. People are dying. People are dying. Just please help us. We’re not even asking for animal rights; we’re asking for human rights here. Please help us. Please help us.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council is set to to meet in Geneva tomorrow to address the Libyan government’s assault on demonstrators. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, renewed her call for an international probe of the Libyan government for “crimes against humanity.”
Navi Pillay: “I expect that the outcome may well pick up on the suggestion I made that there is an immediate need for an international independent investigation of violence against unarmed protesters in Libya, which I considered would constitute crimes against humanity.”
The United States has faced calls to impose a no-fly zone over Tripoli and reinstate sanctions against the Libyan government. In Washington, D.C., President Obama said he is considering several options, calling the violence “unacceptable.”
President Obama: “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop. The entire world is watching, and we will coordinate our assistance and accountability measures with the international community.”
A British court has ruled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face questioning on allegations of sexual crimes. Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden since December, when he was arrested and held for nine days in a London jail. His defense team had argued against the extradition, in part by citing the potential he could wind up being sent to face the death penalty in the United States for publishing classified government documents. Assange says he plans to appeal and has been released on bail under the same conditions as before.
The U.S. military is facing allegations of illegally ordering a “psychological operations” campaign to convince Senate members to increase support for the war in Afghanistan. According to Rolling Stone magazine, members of a military unit in Afghanistan were instructed to use psychological tactics deployed in warfare to manipulate visiting senators and other dignitaries. The order came from Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who oversees the U.S. Army’s training of Afghan troops. Among those selected for targeting include John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin, Admiral Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a number of other lawmakers, foreign officials and think-tank analysts. The unit’s leader, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, says he was ordered to formulate “pressure points we could use to leverage the [visiting] delegation for more funds.” Holmes also says he was asked to consider: “How do we get these guys to give us more people? What do I have to plant inside their heads?” Holmes says he was targeted for retribution after resisting Caldwell’s demands, believing he was being asked to violate U.S. law.
Protests are continuing in Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker’s effort to remove the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Walker is increasingly seeking support from other states, urging leaders in Michigan and Florida to invoke budget woes to extract concessions from public workers. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republican state senators have offered to amend proposed legislation to allow unionized state employees to collectively bargain for their wages. A bill that would have restricted those rights has drawn thousands to protest at the Capitol in Columbus this week. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans oppose stripping unions of collective bargaining rights, while just 33 percent support it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fell victim to a prank on Wednesday by a blogger pretending to be the right-wing billionaire David Koch. The blogger, Ian Murphy, spoke to Walker in a 20-minute recorded phone call. Impersonating Koch, Murphy offered to help Walker plant “troublemakers” at the demonstrations.
Ian Murphy, as David Koch: “We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.”
Gov. Scott Walker: “You know, well, the only problem with — because we thought about that. The problem with — or my only gut reaction to that would be right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this. My only fear would be, is if there was a ruckus caused, is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the Governor’s got to settle to avoid all these problems.”
A top Indiana state official has been fired after publicly calling for violence against demonstrators at Wisconsin’s Capitol Building. In comments posted on his Twitter account, Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox called for using “live ammunition” to disperse the crowds. Pressed by a reporter from Mother Jones magazine, Cox defended his comments, saying it was justified “against thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor.” Cox continued: “You’re damn right I advocate deadly force.”
The Obama administration has dropped its backing of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which denies federal recognition of gay marriage. On Tuesday, the White House said it would no longer defend the measure in two ongoing lawsuits against it. The law is the last major federal statute to openly target gays and lesbians, following last year’s repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bans openly gay people to serve in the military. The administration had previously maintained it opposed DOMA but was obligated to defend it as an existing federal law.
The U.S. military has announced the court-martial of a soldier accused of murdering an Afghan civilian last year. Connecticut National Guard Sergeant Derrick Miller is accused of fatally shooting Atta Mohammad in the head after taking Mohammad from his home and beating him. Atta Mohammad’s son, Yar Mohammad, described the attack on his father.
Yar Mohammad: “An American soldier took him away from home into the bathroom. God knows what happened inside the bathroom, but there were clear signs of punching on his face, and his clothes were torn up. He was shot with a pistol in the head. We demand his trial. We have been assured that he is in jail and there will be a court case. We want him punished for the crime he committed. He must be punished.”
Nadir Nadiry of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission praised the court-martial but said many killings of Afghan civilians are going unpunished.
Nadir Nadiry: “We are closely following the process of the proceedings of the trial, and we hope that no wrongdoing to remain. We are still very concerned, seriously concerned, about the high number of civilians being killed in this conflict in the year that have passed. We have had from the total number of more than 2,300 civilians losing their lives.”
New figures show membership in anti-government extremist groups is at record levels in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-government “patriot” groups and militias grew by 61 percent in 2010 after tripling the year before. The number of active hate groups topped 1,000—an increase of 7.5 percent—for the first time since the Center began keeping count in the early 1980s.
Two white Pennsylvania residents have been sentenced to nine years each in the 2008 beating death of a Mexican immigrant. Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak were found guilty last year of committing a hate crime when they and four others beat Luis Ramírez in the town of Shenandoah. Witnesses say the assailants brutally beat Ramírez while yelling racial slurs. Piekarsky and Donchak had faced up to life in prison.