Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi remains on the run as rebel troops continue to encircle the loyalist, desert holdout of Bani Walid. A convoy of fighters with the rebels’ National Transitional Council arrived at the besieged town late Wednesday night. Rebel leaders have speculated Gaddafi’s sons, and perhaps Gaddafi himself, are holed up in Bani Walid. Communications have been cut off inside, and aid agencies have raised concerns about humanitarian conditions. The rebels have also sent troops to the border of Niger, which a pro-Gaddafi convoy crossed earlier this week. In a defiant audio message released earlier today, Gaddafi said he remains in Libya and urged supporters to continue fighting rebel forces.
Newly recovered documents reveal a Western military contractor tried to help arm Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s elite military units just before the Libyan popular uprising broke out. According to Reuters, documents found in an abandoned Libyan base show the British arm of the U.S.-based General Dynamics was brokering deals to improve communications systems for tanks, artillery and armored troop carriers for Gaddafi’s Khamis Brigade just one month before the unrest began. A letter from a General Dynamics project manager to Libya’s defense ministry dated January 25 disclosed plans for a major upgrade of Libyan military equipment, including weapons and vehicles. General Dynamics claims the upgrade was never completed.
The Syrian government’s crackdown on opposition protests continued in the city of Homs Wednesday with the killing of at least 20 people. The assault is believed to be one of the most violent to date against an urban center during Syria’s popular unrest. Human rights groups say the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has intensified its campaign of violent repression with more frequent military raids, targeted assassinations of protest leaders, and thousands of arrests. The United Nations estimates at least 2,200 people have died over the past three months. At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called for a new international rebuke of Assad’s government.
Ambassador Susan Rice: “It is past time for a strong resolution that contains meaningful measures to increase the pressure on the Assad regime. And we are working with partners from Europe and elsewhere towards that end. We think there is a solid base of support for additional measures. There is not yet unanimity, and there are obviously some countries that prefer to go slow with respect to certain measures.”
President Obama delivers a long-awaited speech tonight that will unveil a plan to boost the ailing economy. Obama is expected to propose a $300 billion package containing tax cuts, state aid and infrastructure spending. The address will be delivered before a joint session of Congress, but a number of Republican lawmakers have already announced plans to skip out. The absent Republicans include Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who says he will be throwing a party to mark the opening game of the National Football League season during Obama’s speech.
A new analysis shows nearly 100 active corporate lobbyists used to work for members of the congressional “super committee” tasked with proposing massive spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit. According to the Washington Post, three Democrats and three Republicans on the panel all employ former lobbyists on their staffs. The former staffers now working as lobbyists represent clients including military firms, healthcare conglomerates and Wall Street banks. The corporate giant GE, which has taken in nearly $32 billion in federal contracts over the past decade, has at least eight lobbyists who used to work for “super committee” members. Overall, two-thirds of the lobbyists with ties to the committee are Democrats. About two dozen are former aides to Senator Max Baucus, one of three Democratic senators on the super committee and the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
The American Civil Liberties Union has released a report tracking the erosion of U.S. civil liberties in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes President Obama has continued a number of key Bush administration policies in the so-called “war on terror,” putting the United States “at risk of enshrining a permanent state of emergency in which core values must be subordinated to ever-expanding claims of national security.” In his first-ever televised interview, the former top lawyer at the CIA, John Rizzo, said the Obama administration has changed “virtually nothing with respect to existing CIA programs and operations.”
John Rizzo: “His people were signaling to us, I think partly to try to assure us that they weren’t going to come in and dismantle the place, that they were going to be just as tough, if not tougher, than the Bush people. Authorities were continued that were originally granted by President Bush beginning shortly after 9/11. Those were all picked up, reviewed and endorsed by the Obama administration.”
The Obama administration is ramping up efforts to subvert a Palestinian effort to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations later this month. The White House has claimed to support an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution but has harshly opposed the Palestinian Authority’s campaign to achieve just that. On Wednesday, Obama aides David Hale and Dennis Ross met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a last-ditch attempt to block the statehood move. At a nearby square in Ramallah, a Palestinian protester denounced the U.S. pressure.
Protester: “These Americans are not bringing blessings to us. They came to terrify us. We tell the President, Abu Mazen, that Palestinian people are united. We tell the President, Abu Mazen, that the Palestinian people want you to continue your step and to go to the United Nations. Abu Mazen, do not give up. Abu Mazen, do not hesitate. The Palestinian people are with you.”
As the United States attempts to quash the statehood bid, Palestinian leaders are using President Obama’s own words in a public effort to drum up support for their campaign. A radio ad sponsored by the Palestinian Authority quotes President Obama’s support for Palestinian statehood in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly last year.
President Obama: “When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is then heard in the ad saying, “If [President Obama] said it, he must have meant it.”
Bahrain has released a group of doctors who had staged a hunger strike following their imprisonment for treating anti-government protesters in March. Independent investigators say at least 80 other hunger-striking prisoners are still being held behind bars. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally in the Middle East, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
In Honduras, a leading member of the resistance movement that opposed the 2009 military coup has been killed. Mahadeo Roopchand Sadloo, a key supporter of former president Manuel Zelaya and a protest leader with the National Popular Resistance Front, was reportedly shot five times Wednesday inside of his tire shop. The Resistance Front says around 200 of its members have been killed in the more than two-year period since the coup.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates came under protest Wednesday night during a speech at the University of Texas. As Gates spoke, a group of students stood up to sing a refrain of “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”
A West Virginia man ended a tri-state killing spree Wednesday, having left at least five people dead and two more critically wounded before taking his own life. The shooter, 22-year-old Shayne Riggleman, carried out attacks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before crossing into Kentucky and turning the gun on himself. The shootings come one day after a gunman in Nevada killed four people at a restaurant before taking his own life.