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Hopes of a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire in Syria are receding as Syrian troops continue to shell the city of Homs and the northern village of Marea. The French foreign ministry said Syria’s promises to implement a ceasefire plan are a “blatant and unacceptable lie.” As the deadline for Damascus to implement the ceasefire plan crafted by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan ran down, Syria demanded guarantees from the former United Nations chief that armed insurgents would honor a truce. The rebel Free Syrian Army has said it will cease fire only if convinced that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have pulled back. On Monday, at least five people, including two Turkish citizens, were wounded by cross-border fire into a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Another neighbor of Syria’s, Lebanon, condemned the killing of a local journalist by Syrian soldiers firing over the border on Monday. Ali Shaaban worked as a cameraman for Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed television channel. Salam Abu Mujahed is director of TV operations at the station.
Salam Abu Mujahed: “He’s a martyr for all the media. He’s another martyr for all photojournalists and for the country. As a television station, we are proud that we had a member in our team like him. May God bless his soul.”
In other news from Syria, Human Rights Watch has released video of a Syrian refugee describing military attacks on civilians.
Khaled: “And in front of us, they started to beat them with the butt of their Kalashnikovs. They started beating their bodies, their legs and their heads. After they tortured them and all that, a general and a lieutenant-general came and gave the order to open fire on the soldiers dissenting from the Syrian army. They started to shoot at them. There were about four soldiers, and each shot about 30 bullets.”
On Monday, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias.” This is Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch.
Tom Porteous: “These are very serious abuses. They are violations of international human rights law, and it’s a complete shame that this kind of thing is taking place. Some of the incidents that we’ve documented are really quite blood-curdling.”
U.S. military officials have quietly admitted that the U.S. Special Operations Forces will continue to conduct night raids on Afghan homes without the approval of the Afghan government. The admission comes just days after the United States and Afghanistan signed an agreement placing restrictions on the raids. Navy Commander John Kirby admitted on Monday U.S. Special Operations Forces can still carry out searches and detain Afghan residents without a warrant from the Afghan government.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled Britain can send five suspects to the United States to face terrorism charges. Lawyers for the suspects had argued their human rights could be breached if they were convicted in the United States, but the court decided that sending the men to high-security U.S. prisons would be lawful and that they would not receive “inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Huffington Post is reporting a federal bankruptcy judge in Louisiana has ordered Wells Fargo to pay $3.1 million in punitive damages, one of the biggest fines ever for mortgage servicing misconduct. Judge Elizabeth Magner characterized Wells Fargo’s behavior as “highly reprehensible.” Magner wrote: “Wells Fargo has taken advantage of borrowers who rely on it to accurately apply payments and calculate the amounts owed. But perhaps more disturbing is Wells Fargo’s refusal to voluntarily correct its errors.”
A new report by Citizens for Tax Justice has revealed the names of 26 major U.S. corporations that paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2011. The list includes General Electric, Verizon Communications, Boeing, PG&E, Duke Energy and ConEd.
A Pakistani lawyer who represents victims of U.S. drone strikes has been forced to cancel a trip to the United States after the U.S. government failed to grant him a visa. Shahzad Akbar was scheduled to speak later this month at an International Drone Summit in Washington, D.C. Akbar is co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization, Foundation for Fundamental Rights. He filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims.
Shahzad Akbar: “I think people are scared. They’re definitely scared. I’ve seen some people, I’ve interviewed some neighbors whose next-door house was hit, and I could feel what they’re feeling, because they’re feeling this imminent threat. And they are actually feeling helpless at the same time, because they have no other place to relocate, because a lot of them have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate in any other part of Pakistan.”
While Akbar has traveled to the United States in the past, he has not been granted permission to return since becoming an outspoken critic of drone attacks in Pakistan.
The special prosecutor investigating the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has ruled out using a grand jury in the case, meaning her office alone will decide whether to charge shooter George Zimmerman with a crime. The decision means Zimmerman will not be charged with first-degree murder — a serious charge that would indicate the crime was premeditated and would require the convening of a grand jury in Florida. The special prosecutor, Angela Corey, said her decision “should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case.”
George Zimmerman, the alleged killer of Trayvon Martin, has launched his own website in an attempt to raise money for what he described as his “living expenses and legal defense.” The website contains photos of pro-Zimmerman slogans, including a sign at a rally by Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones and a photo of a vandalized black cultural center at Ohio State University where someone spray-painted the words “Long Live Zimmerman.” Every page on Zimmerman’s website includes this quote from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In media news, a Fox affiliate in Florida is facing criticism after it referred to a neo-Nazi group as a “civil rights group” in a report about Trayvon Martin’s killing. Here is part of the Fox report that includes an interview with Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement.
Anchor Jennifer Bisram: “There’s another civil rights group in town: the National Socialist Movement.”
Jeff Schoep: “A lot of people in the community, in the white community down there, had been contacting us out of concern for their safety just because of racial tensions.”
Anchor Jennifer Bisram: “Racial tensions after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense and has been in hiding now for weeks.”
Jeff Schoep: “We’re a white civil rights organization, and we go into areas where we’re needed and where white citizens need our help.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement has its roots in the original American Nazi Party. It is now one of the largest neo-Nazi organizations in the country. The group openly idolizes Adolf Hitler and calls for the deportation of every non-white person in the country.
Two white men accused of shooting five black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing three of them, have reportedly confessed to authorities. Tulsa police say 19-year-old Jake England has admitted to police that he shot three of the victims, and 33-year-old Alvin Watts has said that he shot two others. Police said the suspects drove through the streets of north Tulsa, a predominantly black neighborhood, and randomly shot pedestrians. Both men were ordered held on bail of more than $9 million during their first court appearance on Monday.
The family of a 22-year-old woman who was fatally shot last month by an off-duty police officer in Chicago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. A lawyer for the family of Rekia Boyd said Detective Dante Servin shot Boyd and a man she was with after getting into an argument with the man, 39-year-old Antonio Cross. The lawyer said neither victim was armed. Police originally claimed Cross had pulled a gun, but no gun was found at the scene. Boyd was shot in the back of the head and died a day later.
There is a new development in the case of the police killing of 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain, the former Marine who was killed in his own home in White Plains, New York, after a medical alert. According to an autopsy report obtained by Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, Chamberlain died from a single bullet that entered his right arm and ripped through both lungs. A lawyer for Chamberlain’s family said the autopsy contradicts the police account of his death. Police say Chamberlain was holding a butcher knife when police officer fired two shots to stop him. But an attorney for Chamberlain’s family said the trajectory of the fatal bullet suggests Chamberlain was neither facing the police nor holding up a weapon.
President Obama welcomed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to the White House Monday. Obama praised Brazil for its rapid economic growth.
President Obama: “It gives me an opportunity, as well, to remark on the extraordinary progress that Brazil has made under the leadership of President Rousseff and her predecessor, President Lula, moving from a dictatorship to democracy, embarking on an extraordinary growth path, lifting millions of people out of poverty, and becoming not only a leading voice in the region but also a leading voice in the world.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff criticized U.S. monetary policy, saying it has harmed Brazil and other developing countries. Rousseff said the U.S. decision to leave benchmark lending rates near zero has created an overload of speculative money that floods into economies like Brazil.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: “Such expansionist monetary policies, in and of themselves, in isolation, regarding the fiscal policies, ultimately lead to a depreciation in the value of the currency of developed countries, thus impairing growth outlooks in emerging countries.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is a former Brazilian guerrilla who was held for nearly two years in prison and tortured.
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker has privately signed a series of controversial bills aimed at curbing access to abortion and sex education. The first bill bans most abortion coverage under policies obtained through a health insurance exchange set to be created under the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law, allowing coverage only for rape, incest or medical necessity. A second bill requires every woman seeking an abortion to meet privately with a doctor and undergo an exam before the procedure so the doctor can ensure she is not being pressured. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony. A third bill requires teachers in schools that offer sex education to stress abstinence and says they no longer need to address contraception. Wisconsin’s current law requires some instruction on birth control options. Walker signed the bills Thursday, but did not announce the move until the next day on Good Friday, when his office released a list of about 50 bills he had recently signed. Democrats slammed Walker for signing the laws in private and for attacking the rights of women. Among the other bills Walker signed was a repeal of the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which gave women and other marginalized groups more power to fight wage discrimination. According to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, women in Wisconsin make 75 cents for every dollar men earn.
Regulators have discovered some nail polishes found in California salons contain high levels of substances known to cause birth defects despite carrying labels that identified them as being free of certain toxic chemicals. A report due to be released today found 10 out of 12 products that claimed to be free of the chemical toluene actually contained it, with four products containing a dangerously high level. The report says nail products could harm thousands of people who work in California nail salons, as well as their clients.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has denied a bid by an environmental group to revoke approval of the weed killer 2,4-D, one of the most widely used weed killers in the world. The Natural Resources Defense Council has said the weed killer may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other problems and that the EPA has underestimated how much people might be exposed to the chemical.