President Obama is set to unveil his plan today for the gradual pullback of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Obama is expected to announce an initial withdrawal of 5,000 troops next month followed by up to another 5,000 by year’s end. Obama’s plan would leave around 67,000 troops, plus thousands of contractors — the same size as before his troop surge in Afghanistan last year.
The U.S.-backed monarchy of Bahrain has sentenced eight leading opposition activists to life in prison for their alleged roles in protests earlier this year. The Bahrain state news agency says the activists include Shia political leader Hassan Mushaima, who returned from exile in February after the protests forced the Bahraini monarchy to issue royal pardons. A Bahraini court ruled that Mushaima and the seven others were guilty of plotting a coup. Thirteen other activists were given sentences of between two to five years. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally in the Middle East, hosting the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
In Libya, NATO fighter jets have reportedly resumed air strikes on the capital of Tripoli. At least two explosions were heard in the city earlier today. Meanwhile, forces loyal to embattled leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi have launched rockets into the rebel-held city of Misurata for the first time in several weeks. Four rebel fighters were killed and another 60 wounded on Tuesday in clashes with Gaddafi forces in a nearby town.
NATO has admitted losing an unmanned helicopter drone in Libya, but denied Libyan television reports that the aircraft was an Apache attack chopper.
NATO Spokesperson Mike Bracken: “This drone helicopter, unmanned, was performing intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance over Libya to monitor pro-Gaddafi forces threatening the civilian population. We are currently looking into the reasons behind this incident. What I can say is NATO confirms that it has not lost any attack helicopters during Operation Unified Protector.”
In Iraq, at least 27 people have been killed and more than 30 others wounded in a bombing near the southern city of Diwaniya. The explosive was detonated close to the home of the region’s provincial governor. Many of the victims were police officers.
At least seven people have been killed in the latest Syrian government attack on opposition protesters. The deaths came in three towns where supporters of President Bashar al-Assad clashed with opposition activists. Assad announced a new amnesty measure on Monday, but human rights groups say thousands remain behind bars and hundreds more have been arrested.
In Yemen, as many as 40 alleged al-Qaeda militants have escaped from prison in the southern port city of Mukalla. The prisoners escaped after fighters attacked the prison from the outside. The operation is the latest to underscore fears al-Qaeda is exploiting the popular uprising against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to strengthen its presence in southern Yemen.
Mayors from cities nationwide have endorsed a resolution calling on Congress to end funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instead spend the money at home. The measure from the U.S. Conference of Mayors was drafted and pushed through by the activist group CodePink. According to CodePink, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa initially agreed to sponsor the measure but later backed out. CodePink organizer C.J. Minster went ahead with the campaign, drafting the resolution’s text and seeking supporters. Kitty Piercy, the mayor of Eugene, Oregon, eventually became the measure’s lead sponsor.
The Senate has voted unanimously to confirm outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense. Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan praised Panetta for what he called a “clear moral compass.”
Sen. Carl Levin: “Throughout his time in public service, Leon Panetta has been guided by a clear moral compass. He has said that, quote, 'In politics there has to be a line beyond which you don't go, the line that marks the difference between right and wrong, what your conscience tells you is right.’ Too often people don’t know where the line is.”
Panetta has headed the CIA for the past two years and has led a massive escalation of the use of unarmed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking on Democracy Now! earlier this year, former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern said Panetta would cater to congressional and military-industry interests.
Ray McGovern: “He will do at the Pentagon what he did at the CIA, and that is, act as the lawyer for the department, as he was a lawyer for the agency. He did not take hold. He did not lead the agency. Nor will he lead the Defense Department. He’s a — he described himself in his nomination hearings as a creature of the Congress. And so, you can bet on him placating congressional interests and making sure that the military-industrial complex flourishes.”
Panetta replaces the outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who retires at the end of the month.
The banking giant JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $153.6 million to settle allegations it deceived clients into buying risky mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the nation’s financial meltdown. A lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday accuses JPMorgan Chase of failing to tell investors that a complex investment product it sold in 2007 was partially designed by a hedge fund that would profit if the security lost value. The suit comes just one day after the National Credit Union sued JPMorgan Chase, as well as the the Royal Bank of Scotland, citing similar allegations.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has formally entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Huntsman launched his candidacy on Tuesday with a public event in New Jersey.
Jon Huntsman: “I’m a candidate for the office of President of the United States of America. For the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got. This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable, and it is totally un-American.”
Huntsman most recently served as the U.S. ambassador to China, stepping down earlier this year.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has voiced support for women activists in the U.S. ally of Saudi Arabia following repeated calls for her public backing. Saudi women have recently challenged the nation’s ban on women driving by circulating accounts and pictures online of themselves behind the wheel.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “This is not about the United States. It is about the women of Saudi Arabia. And what these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it, and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves seeking to be recognized. And we have raised this issue at the highest level of the Saudi government.”
Resistance to the Saudi law was inspired in part by the recent arrest of two Saudi women who defied the ban.
The Greek government has survived a confidence vote in parliament as it struggles to impose sweeping austerity measures amidst a fiscal crisis. On Tuesday, Greek lawmakers voted to approve the new Greek cabinet as thousands demonstrated outside the building in Athens.
Thousands of people rallied in Luxembourg on Tuesday to protest a round of austerity measures sweeping Europe.
Protester: '’They are preparing for us a Europe where you have to work until you're in the grave, until 70 years old, you have to work until you’re dead, and only the finance will rule Europe. And we don’t want a Europe like that.’’
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been approved for a second five-year term. Ban thanked the General Assembly after a unanimous vote in his favor.
Ban Ki-moon: “With your decision this afternoon, with warm words, you do to me a very great honor beyond expression. Standing in this place, mindful of the immense legacy of my predecessors, I’m humbled by your trust and enlarged by our sense of common purpose.”
A handful of Latin American and Caribbean countries reportedly delayed Ban’s endorsement amid complaints he has neglected their region and sided too closely with the U.S. government.
The Obama administration has announced some 2,400 undocumented immigrants were detained in a nationwide seven-day raid last month. The so-called “Cross Check” operation has been described as the largest ever of its kind. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, working in conjunction with federal authorities and local officials, apprehended individuals in all 50 states and are now holding them in immigration jails across the country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has unveiled new warning labels to appear on cigarette packages beginning no later than September 2012. The labels use images including dead bodies and diseased lungs to warn of the dangers of smoking. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg unveiled the images at the White House.
Kathleen Sebelius: “The new graphic warning labels will be the toughest and most effective tobacco health warnings in this country’s history, and they tell the truth. They will replace the old warning phase with pictures showing negative health consequences of smoking that are proven to be effective.”
Margaret Hamburg: “A pack-a-day smoker will see these labels more than 7,000 times a year. And kids who are under the impression that smoking is cool or glamorous will be confronted by a very different reality when they are tempted to pick up a cigarette pack 15 months from now.”
The new labels mark the first change in U.S. cigarette warnings in 25 years.