The United States has begun using armed Predator drones to attack forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said President Obama had authorized the use of the drones.
Robert Gates: “Now, the President has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those, and in fact he has approved the use of armed Predators. And I think that today may, in fact, have been their first mission. So I think that will give us some precision capability.”
The United States has carried out drone strikes in at least five countries in recent years: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the U.S. military’s joint chiefs of staff, admitted today that the conflict in Libya is moving to a stalemate. Senator John McCain, one of the strongest congressional proponents of the U.S. military intervention, arrived in Libya earlier today to meet with rebel fighters.
The Wall Street Journal reports senior U.S. and Iraqi military officials have been secretly negotiating a possible plan to keep about 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. forces at year’s end. Iraqi officials, though, have expressed concern that a continued U.S. military presence could lead to protests similar to those sweeping other Arab countries.
On Thursday, Iraqi officials imposed a curfew in the city of Mosul, where protesters have been staging a sit-in for the past two weeks. Protesters have been demanding the departure of U.S. troops and military bases and the release of political prisoners.
Major protests are taking place in Syria today just days after the Syrian government lifted the 48-year-old emergency laws. The protesters on the outskirts of Damascus have been chanting, “The people want the downfall of the regime.”
In news from Bahrain, at least 32 doctors—including surgeons, physicians, pediatricians and obstetricians—have reportedly been arrested and detained over the past month. Human rights groups say the arrests are part of a campaign of intimidation that runs directly counter to the Geneva Convention guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in conflict. The Independent of London reports one doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested while operating on a patient.
In Pakistan, U.S. drones have killed 25 people in North Waziristan. The dead reportedly included five children and four women. The attack strike came two days after a visit to Islamabad by U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen.
In Pakistan, there has been a major development in the case of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman who spoke out publicly nine years ago after she was gang-raped. The rape had been ordered by a tribal council as punishment for a crime allegedly committed by her 12-year-old brother. At the time, Mai accused 14 men of being involved. In 2002, a court sentenced six of the men to death, while acquitting the others, citing a lack of evidence. But on Thursday, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned five of the six convictions. The death penalty for the sixth man was commuted to life in prison. On Thursday, Mukhtar Mai said she fears her life is now in danger.
Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly has called for Haiti to build a new army, a move that has been criticized by some human rights groups. Haiti disbanded its military in 1995. The Haitian military had long been known for its brutality and support for coups. Martelly made the announcement on Thursday during a trip to Washington, D.C.
Michel Martelly: “I think it’s a must that we create a Haitian force. Whether you call it the military, the gendarmerie, it’s irrelevant to me. It needs to be a modern army. We will have a medical corps, an engineering corps, and we’ll be ready to intervene in case of — whether it’s chaos, whether it’s a catastrophe, the earthquake or hurricanes, to get involved in reforestation, preserve our forests. A modern army. We don’t foresee Haiti going to war with any other county, so it won’t be an army with heavy equipments like war ships or fighter jets.”
A group of prominent Israelis met Thursday in Tel Aviv to announce their support for the formation of an independent Palestinian state. Forty-seven leading Israeli cultural figures and academics signed a “Declaration of Independence from the Occupation.” Yaron Ezrahi is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Yaron Ezrahi: “The subjugation of the Palestinian people by Israel is not only the elimination of Palestinian freedom, it also corrupts our freedom in the state of Israel.”
A group of Israeli protesters tried to disrupt the event. They heckled the gathering and called the participants traitors.
With gas prices above $4 in some states, President Obama has ordered a federal investigation to see if fraud or manipulation in oil markets is behind the spike in gasoline prices.
President Obama: “The Attorney General is putting together a team whose job it is to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We’re going to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain.”
Chesapeake Energy has suspended hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” at its natural gas wells in Pennsylvania after a large spill earlier this week. Thousands of gallons of toxic drilling fluid used in hydraulic fracturing spilled into a Pennsylvania waterway Tuesday night after a blowout at a natural gas well.
In political news, embattled Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada has announced he will resign amid an ongoing ethics investigation.
Supporters of accused U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning disrupted a speech by President Obama at a fundraiser in San Francisco on Thursday. The protesters, who bought tickets to the $5,000-a-plate fundraiser, began singing a song about the military’s mistreatment of Manning.
The singing was led by Oakland activist Naomi Pitcairn.
Protest singers: “Yes, it’s true that Terry Jones is legally free // To burn a people’s holy book in shameful effigy // But at another location in this country // Alone in a 6-by-12 cell sits Bradley // 23 hours a day is night // The 5th and 8th Amendments say this kind of thing ain’t right // We’ve paid our dues, where’s our change? // We’ve paid our dues, where’s our change?”
Earlier this week, Manning was transferred from the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia to a prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.