The U.S. soldier accused in the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians has been flown out of Afghanistan to a detention center in Kuwait. A senior U.S. commander said the move was made to help ensure a proper investigation and trial. The suspected killer’s name has not been released, but he has been identified as a 38-year-old staff sergeant who served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury. Afghan lawmakers and residents expressed anger over his exit, saying the soldier should be tried in Afghanistan.
Gulam Hazrat: “The U.S soldier must be tried in Kandahar city. Why was he taken away from Afghanistan when he murdered innocent people in this country? He is transferred to another place to be freed. Why did he murder 16 people here? For what reason did he massacre them? We want to see him punished here in Afghanistan.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continues a visit to Afghanistan in a bid to contain the fallout over the massacre. On Wednesday, Panetta received a security scare after an Afghan man drove a stolen pickup truck onto the tarmac where Panetta’s plane was about to land, then emerged from the vehicle in flames. The man later died from the burns. A U.S. commander said he believed the incident was unrelated to Panetta’s visit and that the man may have been trying to run the truck into a group of U.S. marines. At a U.S. base in Helmand province, Panetta tried to highlight security gains under the U.S. occupation.
Leon Panetta: “This area was a Taliban stronghold once upon a time, and now a great deal of progress has been made in terms of Afghan security and Afghan governance in this area.”
Syrians are marking the first anniversary today of their uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The anniversary comes amid an intensified push by Assad’s forces to crush opposition pockets in northern and southern areas. Government forces have launched new attacks in the towns of Idlib, which it seized from rebels this week, as well as in Daraa, the site of the first major protests one year ago. On Wednesday, Syrian forces reportedly sprayed buildings in Daraa with machine gun fire while conducting house-to-house raids. Meanwhile, two Turkish journalists have been reported missing after they traveled to Idlib.
The Guardian newspaper has obtained what appears to be a trove of more than 3,000 emails downloaded from the private accounts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. The emails show Assad took advice from Iran or its proxies on ways to handle the uprising against him as well as mocking the reforms he promised to put in place in response. They also show Assad was briefed in detail about the presence of Western journalists in the Baba Amr area of Homs. The emails, which were intercepted by opposition activists, include messages from a daughter of the emir of Qatar advising the Assads to leave Syria and perhaps find exile in Doha. They show Assad’s wife spending thousands of dollars in online purchases while Assad skirted U.S. sanctions by buying music from iTunes. The Syrian leader also forwarded a link to a YouTube video that used toys and biscuits to reenact the siege of Homs. The United Nations estimates more than 8,000 people have died in Assad’s crackdown against the year-long uprising.
President Obama is warning Iran that the window for a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Iran’s alleged nuclear activities is “shrinking.” Obama made the comment during a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
President Obama: “In the past, there has been a tendency for Iran in these negotiations with the P5-plus-1 to delay, to stall, to do a lot of talking but not actually move the ball forward. I think they should understand that because the international community has applied so many sanctions, because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course, that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”
A so-called “free trade deal” between the United States and South Korea goes into effect today following its ratification last year. The deal is the largest trade agreement the United States has signed since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994. It has been opposed by numerous labor unions and watchdog groups in the United States. According to Public Citizen, the deal is projected to cost 160,000 American jobs. South Korean farmers and some workers also oppose it, saying it threatens their livelihoods. As the deal came into effect, hundreds of people held a protest in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Han Seon-bum: “We want to abolish the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which will go into effect tonight. It’s a deal inflicting a loss on our country. Also the deal is unfair, since it’s under American law and above our domestic law.”
In South Korea news, demolitions have begun to prepare construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in South Korea. The South Korean navy and Samsung Corporation are dynamiting the coastline with 400,000 tons of explosives. Local villagers have been fighting the construction for the past five years. This week in New York City, activists held a protest outside the South Korean consulate that included a mock funeral procession for Jeju Island’s marine life.
Sukjong Hong: “We’ve been trying to meet with them, actually, for weeks, and they’ve denied a meeting, and so we decided we’ve used all the means at hand, we should just come here. And instead of just bringing ourselves, we actually brought the sea life of Jeju Island, which is currently being threatened with construction by a naval base. Allies from all around New York, including Occupy Wall Street, including the Raging Grannies, Filipino organizations, and Korean peace organizations all gathered here. And we really wanted to, in essence, hold a kind of funeral ceremony protest to mourn the loss of life and to show the South Korean consulate that we are not going to be stopped.”
A Ugandan LGBTQ rights group has filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against a Massachusetts-based evangelist for allegedly inciting the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Uganda. The evangelist, Scott Lively, is accused of collaborating with Ugandan politicians and religious leaders to foment homophobia against Uganda’s gay and lesbian communities. Lively is said to have helped bring forth a parliamentary measure that called for the execution of homosexuals and later for their life imprisonment. Lively is one of a number of U.S. evangelicals tied to anti-LGBTQ fervor in Uganda.
In New York City, dozens of people rallied outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Wednesday to protest a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney
Ruth Rodriguez: “I lived in Massachusetts when he was governor, and I can tell you that our biggest sign for Romney was a flip-flop. He’s the biggest flip-flopper. He’ll say whatever the audience wants to hear, and then he does whatever he wants to do. And the first thing he did in Massachusetts was to eliminate bilingual education and trash teachers.”
Adopting the language of Occupy Wall Street, a satirical group calling themselves “1 Percent for Mitt” offered a mock defense of Romney’s candidacy.
“Richard Thanyou”: “I’m here today to, you know, tell these hippies that they should buy their own politicians. That’s the American way. You know, there’s no gratitude here for the Wall Street executives, the billionaires who are financing our election. Some countries can’t even hold elections. You know, I think a little gratitude is in order. Some of my one-percenter friends are here to tell these hippies what’s up. And I’m hoping that there’s not a clash, but I think in the marketplace of ideas, you know, we’ve shown that the one-percenters will always prevail. Whether it’s Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in 2012, the system is rigged for us. It’s class war, and we’re winning.”
Financial giant Goldman Sachs took a hit Wednesday after a mid-level executive published a scathing resignation letter in the New York Times decrying the firm’s “toxic” environment. In the letter, Greg Smith, a former Goldman Sachs executive director who worked in London, said bosses at the firm called their clients “muppets” and strove to maximize profits at the expense of client interests. He writes: “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.”