President Barack Obama and George W. Bush led a tribute on Sunday in New York City for the victims who died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. They spoke near the 9/11 Memorial fountains, which were built on the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Family and friends of the nearly 3,000 victims of the strikes on the Twin Towers read out the names of the victims. President Obama quoted a passage from the Bible.
President Obama: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earths. The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
For the commemoration of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama also visited the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. At the Pentagon, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the United States will never stop fighting after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Leon Panetta, U.S. Defense Secretary: “To this day, and by these memorials to each victim, we pledge to never forget the enemy that made this happen, why we fight them, and why we will never stop fighting them, to make sure that what happened here and in New York City and in that field in Pennsylvania never happens again.”
In New York City, an anti-racism rally was held just blocks from Ground Zero. Speakers included Fahad Ahmad, a member of DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving.
Fahad Ahmad: “Immediately after 9/11 here, there were post-9/11 sweeps in which over 1,200 Muslim men were picked up, detained, held without communication with their families or lawyers, and most of them eventually being deported… And so, for us, it’s important to come here and say that, yes, while the tragedy of 9/11 did happen, the response to it has been to target the Muslim-American communities here.”
Former Florida senator, Bob Graham, is calling on President Obama to reopen the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks after new information has emerged about the possible role of prominent Saudis in the 9/11 attack. According to recent news reports, a wealthy young Saudi couple fled their home in a gated community in Sarasota, Florida, just a week or so before 9/11, leaving behind three cars and nearly all of their possessions. The FBI was tipped off about the couple but never passed the information on to the Sept. 11 Commission, even though phone records showed the couple had ties to Mohamed Atta and at least 10 other al-Qaeda suspects. Former Senator Bob Graham described the news as “the most important thing about 9/11 to surface in the last seven or eight years.” Graham said, “The key umbrella question is: What was the full extent of Saudi involvement prior to 9/11 and why did the U.S. administration cover this up?’’
A former FBI agent has accused the CIA of deliberately withholding photographs and information about two al-Qaeda operatives living in the United States before the Sept. 11 attacks. The agent, Ali Soufan, writes in a new book that the CIA rejected repeated FBI requests for information before 9/11 about possible al-Qaeda operatives. Then, hours after the World Trade Center was attacked, Soufan claims a CIA official in Yemen finally turned over the material that the FBI had requested months earlier. The CIA’s files included photographs of two of the hijackers who had been living in California. The CIA reportedly became aware of one of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi, a few days after he attended a secret planning meeting of al-Qaeda in Malaysia in January 2000.
In Afghanistan, four civilians died and 77 U.S. troops were injured Saturday when a suicide bomber attacked a NATO base in central Afghanistan. The bomb created one of the highest injury tolls of the decade-long war for the U.S. military.
A new report by Human Rights Watch has accused U.S.-backed militias in Afghanistan of murder, torture, rape, land grabs and numerous other abuses. The rights group says militias, including the Afghan Local Police, suffer from poor oversight and no accountability. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said, “Kabul and Washington need to make a clean break from supporting abusive and destabilizing militias to have any hope of a viable, long-term security strategy.”
Relations between Israel and Egypt are deteriorating after Egyptian protesters attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, forcing the Israeli ambassador and other embassy staff to be evacuated. Protesters scaled the walls of the embassy, replaced the Israeli flag with Egypt’s, and seized embassy documents from a storeroom.
Egyptian protester: “We are demanding that the Israeli ambassador not come back to Egypt again. This is our country, and these people [the Israelis] have hated us for ages. All that we want is that he doesn’t return here again.”
Egyptian riot police and army troops responded with force after protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo. At least three people died and more than 1,000 were injured outside the embassy during a 13-hour standoff. Some 130 protesters have been arrested and will likely face emergency trials before state security court. On Sunday, security officers raided the offices of Al Jazeera and detained staff just two days after the network aired live footage from the embassy protest. The raid on Al Jazeera is seen as part of a widening crackdown on the media and the protest movement by the Egyptian military council. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is reporting Egypt’s military has arrested almost 12,000 civilians and brought them before military tribunals since January. This is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.
In news from Libya, Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi has fled to Niger. He arrived on Sunday in a convoy carrying other Gaddafi loyalists, but Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown. Meanwhile, Bouzaid Dorda, the head of Gaddafi’s external security organization, has reportedly been arrested by anti-Gaddafi fighters.
An explosion was reported at a nuclear plant in southern France earlier today. One person was killed and at least three people were injured, including one seriously. Emergency officials said there is a risk of a radioactive leak. The BBC reports the explosion occurred at a major site that is involved with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities and that operates a pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium.
Anti-nuclear demonstrations were held in Japan Sunday to mark six months since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. Some 400,000 people were displaced. Concerns continue about radiation in the soil, food supply and sea. At a protest Sunday, four young men declared the start of a 10-day hunger strike to bring about change in Japan’s nuclear policy.
Naoya Okamoto, Japanese hunger strike protester: “I believe it is very important that the young generation voice their opposition against nuclear power. And in order to bring our point across, we need to put ourselves on the line, and that’s why we chose to carry out a hunger strike for 10 days.”
In Guatemala, a retired military general has taken an early lead in Guatemala’s national election. If elected, Gen. Otto Pérez Molina would become the first former military official to win the presidency since the end of the military dictatorships in 1986. Human rights groups have accused Pérez of being directly involved in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide in the 1980s. Pérez has run largely on a platform of using an iron fist to crack down on drug cartels.
Otto Pérez, Guatemalan presidential candidate: “This is a rite that I accept, that I am going to fight with character and with a firm hand in front of the institutions to bring peace and security and defend the lives of all Guatemalans so we can live with security as we deserve.”
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchú is one of nine other candidates running for president.
Rigoberta Menchú: “Give us an equal chance, which we have not had in this election, because there are candidates who have mortgaged this country with organized crime, who have mortgaged this country with dirty money that we have seen in their multi-million (quetzals) campaigns, and this is not free for Guatemala. And so, with great energy, from here on, we can’t allow this. We can’t allow (to be) governed by the past or governed by criminal organizations or a corrupt government, because this is basically what we are facing.”
In Chile, thousands of people marched Sunday to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup and the more than 3,200 people who were killed during Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship. Near the end of the march, clashes broke out between some demonstrators and police officers. Police responded by using water cannons and tear gas. Twenty people were arrested.
The United Nations says hundreds more people have been killed in Syria’s ongoing unrest than previously estimated. According to the United Nations, at least 2,600 have died in the six-month-old uprising and President Bashar al-Assad’s subsequent crackdown. The Syrian Human Rights Organization claims at least 113 civilians were killed in military raids in the flashpoint city of Homs last week alone. On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the Assad government had severely beaten prominent rights campaigner Najati Tayara, leaving him in “very bad” condition. Meanwhile, the United States has condemned the Syrian government for the death of 26-year-old Ghiyath Matar. Matar was arrested by Assad’s forces on Sept. 6 after playing a key role in organizing protests against the government. He died while in detention. Activists claim he had wounds on his chest and face.
As the end-of-the-year deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq nears, U.S. officials are reportedly considering moving elements of the nation’s drone program to Turkey. Using Predator drones based in Iraq, the United States currently shares surveillance with Turkey in an effort to target the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the United States considers a terrorist group. In addition to complicating the U.S.-Turkey intelligence-sharing arrangement, the Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal has also prompted the military to consider whether to base backup or rotational training forces in Kuwait to provide the additional military support U.S. commanders say will be necessary in Iraq beyond 2011.
More than 100 people were burned to death in a massive fire caused by a pipeline spill in Nairobi. The fire reportedly started after a fuel tank at a depot belonging to the Kenya Pipeline Company spilled fuel into an open sewer flowing through the slum.
In environmental news, German researchers have revealed that the area covered by Arctic sea ice has reached it lowest point since the start of satellite observations in 1972. Arctic temperatures have risen more than twice as fast as the global average over the past half century. The melting ice is seen as both a measure and a driver of global warming. Meanwhile, a leading United Nations scientist says coral reefs are on course to become the first ecosystem that human activity will eliminate entirely from the earth.
Georgia Superior Court has scheduled the execution of death row prisoner Troy Davis on Sept. 21. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. Amnesty International, the NAACP and numerous other groups have called on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Davis clemency. Benjamin Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Benjamin Jealous, NAACP president, CEO: “Having dealt with hundreds of death row cases over the past 20 years, I have no doubt that Troy is telling the truth. So many others have come to the same conclusion. But with regard to the Board of Pardons and Parole, we just need them to recognize that there is doubt, that this is an exceptional case, and they should do the exceptional thing and spare his life.”