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Accused U.S. Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning was arraigned in a military court on Thursday on charges stemming from the alleged disclosure of classified material to WikiLeaks. Manning faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, for allegedly downloading and passing on thousands of classified files that later appeared on the WikiLeaks website. Manning deferred his plea on all charges and also deferred his decision on whether to appear before a military judge or a military jury. A trial could come as late as August.
Syrian activists say at least five people have been killed in the besieged town of Homs today as the weeks-long assault by the Assad regime continues. Activists in Hama, meanwhile, say forces rounded up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one family. The family had the same last name as the commander of the opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, but it was unclear whether they were related. On Thursday, U.N. investigators filed a report naming top Syrian officials believed to have committed crimes against humanity. The United Nations also announced it has named former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to act as a joint special envoy on Syria in conjunction with the Arab League.
The developments in Syria come as members of the opposition Syrian National Council are holding talks with officials from more than 50 countries at a “Friends of Syria” conference today in Tunis. Attendees are expected to call for a ceasefire to allow aid into the county’s most violent areas. On the eve of the summit, a Syria National Council delegate said his group will seek international recognition as well as further pressure on the Assad regime.
Ausama Monajed: “We are hopeful that several key decisions will be taken in this conference. On the top of these decisions is the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the representative of the Syrian people. Number two is to discuss the possibility of creating humanitarian passages into the crisis areas, one from Lebanon to Homs and one from Turkey to Idlib and one from Jordan to Daraa. A third also topic of discussion is the political process moving forward, where there is still a chance to rely on Assad resigning and transferring all his powers to his deputy or not.”
A British journalist wounded in a shelling in Homs this week has pleaded for help in his attempt to flee Syria for treatment. In the video, Paul Conroy says he was hurt in the same attack that took the life of war correspondent and U.S. native Marie Colvin.
Paul Conroy: “My name is Paul Conroy. I’m a photographer with the Sunday Times. Today’s date is the 23d of February, 2012. I was wounded in a rocket attack yesterday, three large wounds to my leg. My colleague Marie Colvin was also killed in the same attack. I’m currently being looked after by the Free Syrian Army medical staff who are treating me with the best medical treatment available. And it’s important to add that I am here as a guest and not captured. Obviously, any assistance that can be given by government agencies would be welcome.”
Protests continue for the fourth straight day in Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops. Hundreds of protesters have marched on the palace of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. At least 12 Afghans have died in the protests so far. Two U.S. troops were also killed on Thursday when an Afghan soldier opened fire at a NATO base that had come under protest. Also Thursday, President Obama sent a letter to Karzai apologizing for the burning.
President Obama took up the nation’s soaring gas prices on Thursday in a speech devoted to touting his administration’s energy policy. Obama said the White House is working diligently to find ways to reduce the cost of gas.
President Obama: “I have directed my administration to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers in the months ahead, from permitting to delivery bottlenecks to what’s going on in the oil markets. We’re going to look at every single aspect of gas prices, because we know the burden that it’s putting on consumers. And we will keep taking as many steps as we can in the coming weeks. That’s short term. But over the long term, an all-of-the-above energy strategy requires us having the right priorities. We’ve got to have the right incentives in place.”
During his remarks, Obama made brief mention of “speculative trading,” which some analysts say is playing an overlooked role in driving up the price of gas. In an interview with ABC News, Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, cited figures from Goldman Sachs showing large amounts of car owners’ gas expenditures are going directly to Wall Street speculators who bet on oil prices. According to Chilton, drivers of a popular Ford pick-up truck are paying an extra $14.56 per fill-up to speculators, or around $750 per year. According to widely cited estimates, gas is now costing an extra $10 per barrel because of financial market speculation.
The Maryland State Senate has voted to legalize same-sex marriage, a measure Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has promised to sign into law. Maryland will join seven other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage. Opponents may attempt to bring the Maryland law to a referendum on the November ballot.
New figures show the number of U.S. children living in poor neighborhoods has increased 25 percent since the turn of the century. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports eight million children lived in poor communities in 2010, a 1.6 million increase from 2000. In a reflection of the stagnating wages for most American workers, three-quarters of those children had at least one parent working a job.
The United States is taking part in preliminary talks in Beijing to convince North Korea to return to negotiations on nuclear disarmament. The six-party talks also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. The U.S. nuclear envoy for North Korea, Glyn Davies, said talks are in the early stages.
Glyn Davies: “We are going to try to make as much progress as we can. Diplomacy is a—you know, it’s a difficult process. It takes time. Sometimes it takes weeks and months. We’ll see how far we can get. And if we can get far enough, and if we can get something that we can then build on, that’s the important—that’s the important thing.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says he is returning to Cuba to undergo a new round of cancer surgery after two operations last year. Chávez says he will have a lesion removed and will be gone indefinitely.
A former El Salvador defense minister accused of murder and torture has been cleared for deportation from the United States. In a landmark decision, a Florida immigration judge ruled Thursday that General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova can be sent back to El Salvador for his role in the notorious killings of four U.S. churchwomen in 1980. It is the first time an immigration judge has ruled a top-ranking foreign military leader can be deported for committing abuses under a 2004 law intended to bar human rights violators from U.S. soil. It is also the first time General Vides has been held responsible for the churchwomen’s deaths in a court of law. General Vides was a close U.S. government ally during his stint as defense minister for the Salvadoran junta between 1983 and 1989. The churchwomen’s families have fought for years to hold him and other U.S.-backed Salvadoran officials responsible for the deaths. Among them was Bill Ford, who waged a long-term battle for justice in the murder of his sister, Ita Ford, before his death in 2008. In response to the ruling, Bill Ford’s son, Bill Ford, Jr., said, “Since the women were killed, my father made this the single purpose of his life. I’m sure he knows and is well pleased that [General Vides] may no longer be able to live in this country to enjoy the fruits of his brutality.”
The White House has authorized military commission charges against a Lebanese citizen accused of involvement in the killing of U.S. troops in Iraq. According to the New York Times, the defendant, Ali Musa Daqduq, is the first to be charged under the current military commissions system who is not accused of being part of the so-called “war on terror” against al-Qaeda. He would also be the first to be charged under the military commissions system who is not held at Guantánamo Bay. U.S. officials are seeking to negotiate his extradition from Iraq. The New York Times reports the White House has kept Daqduq’s case secret, omitting it from a public list of military commissions.
A top Pentagon lawyer has openly declared the administration’s claim to free reign on assassinating U.S. citizens who join al-Qaeda without court review. In a speech at Yale Law School, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, said courts should have no role in reviewing presidential decisions on who can be targeted. Johnson said, “Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives.” Johnson appeared to be referring to the case of U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was also killed two weeks later.
Seven U.S. marines died on Thursday when their helicopters collided during a training mission in the Arizona desert. The Marines are known to frequently use the area to train for nighttime missions in Afghanistan.
A Chicago window factory that was occupied by workers in 2008 is now facing a second occupation by some of the same employees. About 65 workers at the Goose Island plant run by Serious Energy have occupied the factory in an attempt to save their jobs after the company announced plans to close the plant and consolidate its operations. In 2008, some of the same workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory. The sit-in drew national attention, and union workers reached a settlement where they each received $6,000.
Ten members of Occupy Philadelphia have been acquitted on charges of obstructing a highway during a sit-in last year outside of the city’s police headquarters. Their case marked the first full courtroom trial for Occupy Philadelphia protesters.
New details have emerged on the New York City Police Department’s spying on Muslim residents across the Northeast. The Associated Press reports the NYPD targeted Muslim mosques with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations, including collecting the license plates of worshippers, monitoring them on surveillance cameras, and cataloging sermons through a network of informants. The disclosures follow the news this week NYPD agents monitored mosques and Muslim businesses in Newark, New Jersey, unbeknownst to local officials.
And the tech giant Apple is facing a new wave of protests over conditions at the Foxconn factory in China where some of its products are made. Protesters gathered outside a meeting of Apple shareholders in California Thursday calling for better working conditions.
Benazir Vohra: “I would really love it if Apple would produce their products in a way that were more in line with my values. I really don’t think that in order to make a good enough profit and make a high-quality product, they have to use the chemicals that they do. I don’t think that they have to exploit workers the way they do, with overtime and low wages.”
Heidi Perlmutter: “We’re here because we cannot stand the conditions that these phones are built under. We are working people ourselves, and we think that people deserve a good salary. They deserve, especially, safe conditions.”