Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan for the first visit by a senior Obama administration official since a U.S. soldier massacred 16 Afghan villagers. Panetta comes to Afghanistan amid ongoing protests and violent attacks throughout the country. At least nine people were killed in separate bombings earlier today. On Tuesday, at least one Afghan soldier was killed after militants fired on an Afghan government delegation investigating the massacre. At the White House, President Obama vowed justice for the victims of the slaughter.
President Obama: “I’ve directed the Pentagon to make sure that we spare no effort in conducting a full investigation. I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum continues to cement his status as the Republican field’s leading “conservative” with two primary wins in the Deep South. On Tuesday, Santorum edged out Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to win primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.
Rick Santorum: “We will compete everywhere. We will compete everywhere. The time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now to make sure, to make sure that we have the best chance to win this election. And the best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama who can take him on on every issue.”
Gingrich is vowing to stay in the race, despite losing two Southern states that had been seen as crucial to his campaign. Romney, meanwhile, finished third in both Alabama and Mississippi but picked up wins in Hawaii and the territory of American Samoa.
A strong earthquake in northern Japan triggered tsunami advisories in a region heavily damaged by last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Minor sea changes were reported following the 6.8-magnitude quake, and several towns issued evacuation orders, but all warnings were later lifted. No damage or injuries were reported. Last year’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed some 20,000 people and sparked a major nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The earthquake in Japan comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency warns that 80 percent of the world’s nuclear power plants are more than 20 years old, raising safety concerns. In its annual Nuclear Safety Review, the IAEA said the aging plants could pose safety risks, with 5 percent of nuclear sites over 40 years old and 32 percent more than 32 years old. At a nuclear conference in Maryland, the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, called for urgent safety reforms at U.S. facilities.
Gregory Jaczko: “We ultimately will have to address the issue of how we deal with nuclear events that lead to significant land contamination and displacement, perhaps permanently, of people from their homes and their livelihoods and their communities. These are difficult questions that do not have simple answers, but they are ultimately issues that we have to address now, while these issues are fresh in our mind. Any nuclear accident that happens like Fukushima in this country will be unacceptable.”
Four large U.S. banks, including Citigroup, have failed a Federal Reserve stress test meant to gauge their odds of surviving a new economic crisis. Ally Financial, SunTrust and MetLife also failed the test, while 15 companies passed. Overall, the Fed says all 19 banks are in stronger shape than they were after the 2008 financial crash.
Five major banks have agreed to pay the state of New York a combined $25 million over claims of deceptive and illegal practices in their use of an electronic mortgage database. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup will pay $5.9 million each, while Ally Financial will pay $1.25 million. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had sued three of the banks last month over their use of the database, accusing them of improperly foreclosing on homes. The state said it will continue to pursue claims for damages suffered by the state’s homeowners and will use the money to address foreclosures and other housing issues. The deal follows a $25 billion settlement reached last month between banks and 49 states over faulty foreclosure and mortgage practices that helped sink the nation’s economy.
A former Guatemalan soldier has been convicted for the 1982 massacre of more than 200 villagers by a U.S.-backed death squad. Pedro Pimentel is the fifth soldier to be found guilty for the Dos Erres massacre. He was tried after being deported from the United States last year.
Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga has been convicted of war crimes in the first case to be tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Earlier today, the ICC found Lubanga guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 1998-2003 war. Lubanga is the first suspect to be convicted at The Hague since the court was established a decade ago.
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has canceled an upcoming speech in Canada out of fear of protests. Cheney’s latest Canadian appearance in Vancouver was marred with rallies and an attempt to see him tried on war crimes charges. A spokesperson for the company that booked Cheney to speak says Cheney “felt that in Canada the risk of violent protest was simply too high.”