The Guardian newspaper reports U.S. and Afghan officials are locked in secret talks about a deal which could result in U.S. troops, spies and air force power remaining in Afghanistan for decades to come—well beyond the scheduled 2014 withdrawal. The talks come at a time of growing opposition to the war from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The Afghan war is already the longest war in U.S. history.
More details have emerged about the Obama administration’s plan to wage a secret war inside Yemen. In what the Wall Street Journal describes as a major expansion of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, the CIA is preparing to launch a secret program to kill al-Qaeda militants in the country. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from CIA. Now, the spy agency is preparing to carry out drone strikes itself alongside the military campaign. The Yemen program is modeled on the CIA’s covert drone program in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal also reports the CIA, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, has been ramping up its intelligence gathering efforts in Yemen in recent months to support a sustained drone campaign.
Syrian security forces are reportedly widening a military operation in the north of the country aimed at cracking down on anti-government protests. On Monday, troops detained hundreds of people in the town of Jisr al-Shughour. Soldiers are now pushing toward the northern town of Maarat al-Numaan. Nearly 7,000 Syrians have crossed the border with Turkey to escape the violence, and an estimated 10,000 more are waiting to cross. Syrian refugees say they are in desperate need for supplies.
Syrian Man: “We need tents. We need food and drink. There are a lot of people crammed together. Some get (rations), and some don’t. We can’t get into a line. There are a lot of people now.”
There are reports from Jordan that a group of protesters attacked the motorcade of King Abdullah II Monday while the king visited the city of Tafila. An unnamed security official told reporters that young people attacked the motorcade with bottles and stones in two different areas of the city. The Jordanian government denied the account and claimed that a group of young Jordanians thronged the monarch’s motorcade in an attempt to shake hands with the king. King Abdullah’s visit to Tafila came one day after he gave a televised speech announcing a plan to hold elections for future governments posts. But the king gave no timetable for the change.
King Abdullah II of Jordan: “Regarding political reform, in particular, we say we will rely on the agreed recommendations of the national dialogue committee towards elections and political parties laws that meet expectations of Jordanians and guarantee the introduction of a modern elections law to establish a representative parliament to all Jordanians and approved by them.”
Seven Republican White House contenders took part in the first major debate of the 2012 presidential on Monday night in New Hampshire. The Republicans repeatedly portrayed President Obama as a failure on the economy and attacked his healthcare reform bill.
While Republican presidential candidates attempted to portray President Obama as anti-business, the Obama administration is making a concerted effort to reach out to Wall Street executives ahead of the 2012 election. The New York Times reports Obama met with two dozen Wall Street executives at the White House a few weeks before announcing his re-election campaign. Obama is planning a trip to New York this month to dine with bankers, hedge fund executives and private equity investors at the Upper East Side restaurant Daniel. In 2008, employees of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and Morgan Stanley were among Obama’s biggest financial backers.
President Barack Obama is traveling to Puerto Rico today for a quick trip in what is the first official U.S. presidential visit to the island in 50 years. CNN reports Obama will be in Puerto Rico for about five hours. Many analysts say Obama’s visit is being orchestrated with an eye on the 2012 election. Although Puerto Ricans living on the island cannot vote for president, there are about 4.6 million Puerto Rican voters living in the 50 states, including a large number in the battleground state of Florida.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has postponed the release of new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources. The EPA postponed the new rule following complaints from Republican lawmakers and utility companies.
In a referendum vote on Monday, 95 percent of Italians voted in favor of blocking a nuclear power revival in Italy. The vote comes less than a month after Germany announced it would phase out nuclear power over the next decade. Italians also voted against water privatization. James Walston, a professor at the American University of Rome, said the results of the referendums are a blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government.
Professor James Walston, American University of Rome: “The major difference between the referendums and the local election is, of course, that for the referendums, the whole of Italy was able to vote, and if these results are confirmed, it means that 90 percent of about 57 percent of the electorate, means that more than half of the Italian electorate are in some way against Berlusconi, either very strongly or on specific issues. And this is damning for him. This is a very serious problem for him.”
A new newspaper poll in Japan shows almost three-quarters of Japanese respondents now favor a gradual phase-out of nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Time Magazine has revealed a secret U.S. federal grand jury is looking into the role of CIA agents in the death of an Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The death of Manadel al-Jamadi became publicly known after photos were leaked showing him wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. Some photos show U.S. military personnel posing over his dead body. Al-Jamadi’s death was officially classified as a homicide, but the only person ever charged in the case was found to be innocent.
Meanwhile, the families of three men who died at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, five years ago filed an appeal Monday in an attempt to revive their lawsuit against former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The U.S. military claims the men committed suicide in June 2006, but attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights say evidence has since emerged suggesting the men may have been killed at a secret black site at Guantánamo.
Tunisian authorities have announced ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, will be tried in absentia next week. Several legal cases are being prepared against him, including conspiring against the state, voluntary manslaughter and drug trafficking. Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January following a popular uprising.
A new report released by three U.S. senators finds some 70 percent of guns seized in Mexico from 2009 to 2010 came from the United States. Of the nearly 30,000 guns seized in Mexico during the period, more than 20,000 came from the United States. Meanwhile, Congress held its first hearing Monday on a once-secret U.S. government plan to encourage U.S. gun shops to sell thousands of guns to middlemen for Mexican drug cartels. The United States was hoping to use the middlemen to gain access to senior-level figures within Mexico’s criminal organizations. The so-called gun walker scandal was orchestrated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Hundreds of the guns that were sold to the cartels were later found at crime scenes in both countries, including two at the murder scene of a U.S. border patrol agent.
Roughly 4,000 unionized workers at Macy’s in New York City and Westchester have voted to go on strike if they cannot reach a contract agreement by late Wednesday night. According to union officials, the department store is pushing for a new online scheduling system that would create unpredictable work hours and could impact healthcare eligibility. Additionally, union representatives say the company is seeking to raise healthcare costs, eliminate pension benefits for new employees, and is offering inadequate wage increases.