Ahmad Wali Karzai, a brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has been assassinated in Kandahar. Ahmad Wali served as the head of Kandahar’s provincial council and was one of the most powerful officials in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for today’s attack, saying they had persuaded one of Karzai’s bodyguards to turn on him. Karzai had survived two other assassination attempts in recent years. In other Afghan news, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced France will withdraw 1,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
U.S. drones have killed at least 45 people in multiple strikes in northwest Pakistan over the past 24 hours. It marks the second-largest death toll in a single day since the U.S. drone campaign began in Pakistan in 2004. The deadly attacks came just a day after the Obama administration announced an $800 million delay in military assistance amid worsening U.S.-Pakistan ties.
The Guardian newspaper has revealed the CIA organized a fake vaccination program in the Pakistani town where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to gain access to his compound and to obtain DNA from the al-Qaeda leader’s family. A senior Pakistani doctor who was recruited by the CIA for the project is now being held in Pakistan after being arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence for cooperating with U.S. intelligence agents. One nurse involved in the project reportedly gained access to the bin Laden compound. Before entering, she was instructed to take in a handbag that was fitted with an electronic device. It is not clear what the device was.
U.N. officials say they are struggling to cope with the growing number of refugees in eastern Africa because of the severe drought in Somalia and neighboring countries. The United Nations says increasing numbers of malnourished young children are dying after trekking for weeks to receive emergency aid. António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, has described the drought as the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world.”
António Guterrres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: “I believe that we are witnessing today in the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia, the most tragic humanitarian disaster. The fact that conflict and drought are combining itself creating a terrible situation for the people that is forced to flee in big numbers, children dying on the way, children coming to Ethiopia or to Kenya, and doctors not even being able to treat them because of the level of
malnutrition that they face.”
Some aid organizations say relief efforts have been hampered in Somalia due to U.S. anti-terrorism laws that bar any person or organization from providing any type of material support—even humanitarian aid—to groups that have ties to al Shebab, a designated terrorist organization that controls part of Somalia. Jeremy Konyndyk of Mercy Corps said, “U.S. laws on material support to terrorists have become a direct impediment to the drought response: the U.S. has avoided any humanitarian activity that might result in even a small amount of aid leakage to the militants.”
In other climate news, Texas and 13 other states stretching from Arizona to Florida continue to face one of the worst U.S. droughts on record. Some say the drought could rival the Dust Bowl Days. In Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently designated all 254 counties in the state natural disaster areas.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is back in a London court today appealing a court order that he go to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations by two women. Assange’s attorney has claimed his client’s arrest warrant inaccurately described what happened and has argued the allegations against Assange cannot amount to crimes in England and therefore extradition to Sweden must be blocked.
The phone hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire continues to expand. The New York Times reports that five senior British police investigators discovered in 2006 that their mobile phones were targeted soon after Scotland Yard opened an initial criminal inquiry of phone hacking by reporters from Murdoch’s News of the World. Meanwhile, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has admitted that reporters from another Murdoch-owned newspaper illegally obtained the medical records of his infant son who had cystic fibrosis. Brown condemned the actions of Murdoch’s papers.
Gordon Brown, former British prime minister: “I think what happened pretty early on in government is that the Sunday Times appear to have got access to my building society account. They got access to my legal files. There’s some question mark about what happened to other files, documentation, tax and everything else. But I’m shocked, I’m genuinely shocked, to find that this happened because of their links with criminals.”
The Israeli Knesset has passed a controversial new bill to punish anyone who advocates for boycotting Israel or the occupied West Bank. According to the law, a person or an organization calling for the boycott of Israel can be sued by the boycott’s targets without having to prove that they sustained damage. Zeev Elkin, the Israel lawmaker who proposed the bill, said it was needed to “protect the citizens of Israel.” But dozens of Israeli lawmakers voted against the measure, including Nitzan Horowitz. Horowitz said, “We are dealing with a legislation that is an embarrassment to Israeli democracy and makes people around the world wonder if there is actually a democracy here.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé has revealed discussions have begun between Libya and other key countries to end the crisis in Libya, but there were no full-scale negotiations. Juppé said some Libyan emissaries have told him that Col. Muammar Gaddafi is prepared to leave. On Monday, the U.N. special envoy for Libya, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, called on all sides in the Libyan conflict to engage in direct negotiations.
Abdul Elah al-Khatib, U.N. special envoy for Libya: “I’m urging the parties to increase their focus on working towards a political solution. We would like to see indirect negotiations evolve into direct ones. Enough Libyans have lost their lives. It should be clear that any lasting end to the conflict will require a political solution, and this solution must fulfill the Libyan people’s legitimate aspirations for a peaceful and democratic future. Fighting to the bitter end will only lead to more unnecessary suffering.”
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked the U.S. and French embassies in the capital city of Damascus Monday. The attackers broke into the U.S. embassy while security guards used live ammunition to prevent hundreds from storming the French embassy. In related news, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued her strongest criticism of the Syrian government to date Monday, saying Assad had “lost legitimacy,” and added the president is “not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.”
For a fifth day in a row, Egyptian protesters are camping out in Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding the basic demands of the Egyptian revolution be fulfilled, including a wider purge of members of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Earlier today, 30 men armed with knives and sticks stormed the protesters’ tent camp at the square, wounding six. Meanwhile, Egyptian state TV has reported masked gunmen have blown up a major pipeline that supplies natural gas to Israel and Jordan.
Oil giant BP is urging the federal government to stop compensating victims of last year’s devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP says it did not expect to see further damages incurred by Gulf residents or businesses as a result of the spill, citing improving economic conditions. Fishermen in the Gulf disagree with the oil company’s depiction of the region. Last year’s crab harvest was reportedly 75 percent lower than pre-spill numbers, and many fear the true extent of the largest oil spill in U.S. history will continue to unfold for decades to come. To date, $4.5 billion has been paid to 195,000 residents affected by the record-breaking disaster through BP’s $20 billion fund.
Gun dealers in the southwestern United States are now required to report the sale of multiple semi-automatic rifles, according to new regulations issued by the Obama administration. The bill is intended to curb the steady flow of weapons fueling drug-related violence in Mexico. The National Rifle Association has denounced the new regulations and is preparing to sue the government once enforcement begins. More than 70 percent of weapons recovered in Mexico since 2006 originated in the United States, contributing to the deaths of an estimated 40,000 people.
Supporters of the imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier are condemning a decision by prison authorities in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to send him to solitary confinement in late June for two minor infractions. Peltier’s attorney Robert Bryan said, “Officials are using this as an excuse to torture my 66-year-old client. His health is poor because of decades of imprisonment. It is an attempt to break and intimidate him.” Peltier has been in prison for more than 35 years, convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Peltier has long maintained his innocence and has been widely considered a political prisoner who was not granted a fair trial.
Michelle Obama and three former first ladies are among dignitaries heading to California to pay tribute to Betty Ford at her funeral today. Ford died at the age of 93 on Friday. Ford is best known for helping to create the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and alcohol treatment. Historian Susan Hartmann also praised Ford’s role as a feminist. Hartmann said, “Betty Ford was the first first lady to really be consistently, publicly (outspoken) about women’s rights and women’s issues. She was the most visible Republican feminist.”