The White House has approved a radical expansion of how it carries out drone strikes inside Yemen. The Washington Post reports President Obama has granted a CIA request to launch drone attacks even if it does not know the identities of those who will be killed. The so-called “signature” strike policy went into effect earlier this month, and at least one attack has already been launched. It is widely expected the number of U.S. drone strikes will see a radical jump with the new policy in place. At least 48 civilians have been killed in 27 U.S. strikes inside Yemen since 2009. The sweeping leeway for the strikes has already been in effect in Pakistan, where U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians.
A military judge has rejected a defense request to dismiss all charges against alleged Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning. On Wednesday, Colonel Denise Lind rejected Manning attorney claims of “prosecutorial misconduct” and set a trial date for September 21. Manning faces up to life imprisonment for allegedly leaking classified documents that ended up on the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments in a closely watched case that challenges Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law. The Obama administration has challenged four provisions of the law, known as S.B. 1070, for interfering with federal immigration enforcement. The case could have implications for a half-dozen other states that passed similar measures which are now on hold pending its outcome.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has signed into law a state measure abolishing the death penalty. Connecticut becomes the 17th state overall and the fifth in five years to end capital punishment, but the change would only apply to future cases. The 11 prisoners currently on death row in Connecticut will still face death.
An international tribunal has convicted former Liberan President Charles Taylor on 11 counts of war crimes during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Taylor was found guilty of overseeing crimes including murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery. He becomes the first African head of state to be found guilty in an international court. Earlier this year, U.S. officials confirmed long-held suspicions Taylor worked for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies during his emergence as a warlord in the 1980s.
Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in a massive explosion in the restive Syrian city of Hama. Opposition activists say up to 69 people died when Syrian forces fired a rocket at a civilian building. The Syrian government has blamed opposition rebels, saying they mishandled bombs intended for use against state troops. Activists say at least 13 children and 16 women were among the dead.
Israel’s top military officer has backed U.S. intelligence assessments that Iran has abandoned efforts to build a nuclear bomb. In an interview, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz called Iranian leaders “very rational people” who appear to have been swayed by international sanctions to stop nuclear efforts. Gantz’s comments contrast with the view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly referred to Iran as an existential threat.
News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch appeared before a British inquiry on Wednesday to face new questions on the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed his media empire. Under questioning from inquiry chair Robert Jay, Murdoch repeatedly denied allegations of using his vast media holdings to promote British politicians who aided his financial interests.
Rupert Murdoch: “Mr. Jay, you keep inferring that endorsements were motivated by business motives. And if that had been the case, we would have endorsed the Tory party in every election. It was always more pro-business. You know, after a while, if these lies are repeated again and again, they sort of catch on. And particularly if we’re successful, people who are resentful can grab onto them. But they just aren’t true.”
Returning to testify earlier today, Murdoch apologized for the hacking scandal, saying he had failed to pay sufficient attention to the goings-on at his now-defunct newspaper, the News of the World. Outside the British inquiry, members of the online group Avaaz gathered to call for a full accounting for Murdoch’s dealings with top British politicians.
Will Davies: “We know that Rupert Murdoch met many ministers and the prime minister, and the purpose of the Leveson Inquiry is to find out who knew what when. And if heads need to roll, they should roll. The type of crimes that the Murdochs and their staff are accused of—bribing police, hacking schoolgirls’ phones—they’re outrageous, and people will not stand for another cover-up.”
Mexico has announced a probe of the U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart for allegations of systematic bribery. An investigation by the New York Times found Wal-Mart paid Mexican officials more than $24 million in bribes to win construction permits in Mexico. The company failed to report any of the information to law enforcement at the time. Mexico’s federal anti-corruption agency will conduct the probe, which follows a similar investigation by the Department of Justice.
College students across the nation took part in protests on Wednesday to mark 1T Day, the day U.S. student debt was expected to reach $1 trillion. The day of action was organized to protest record-high college costs and call for an extension of low-interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans. In New York City, hundreds of students rallied in Union Square Park wearing signs noting their debt burden and setting fire to bills and debt papers.
Senate lawmakers have passed a bill that would overhaul the finances of the debt-stricken U.S. Postal Service and potentially delay the planned closings of as many as 3,700 post offices. The measure authorizes nearly $11 billion for the agency to offer buyouts and early retirement incentives to workers as well as repay its debts. Senators also set restrictions on the closing of post offices in rural areas and delayed a plan to end Saturday deliveries for two years. The House has yet to schedule a vote on a rival bill from Republican Representative Darrell Issa. The Postal Service is set to begin closing more post offices and processing centers on May 15. It was plunged into debt under a controversial 2006 law that forced the Postal Service to become the only agency required to fund 75 years of retiree health benefits over just a 10-year span.
The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has ordered a review to ensure no military schools are teaching anti-Islamic content. The order comes after the Pentagon suspended a course at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, that taught senior officers the United States is at war with Islam.
More than 60 people have been evacuated from their homes following a blowout and a gas leak at a Chesapeake Energy well near Douglas, Wyoming. The energy company says it lost control of the well while installing a steel casing. There were reports of natural gas gushing into the air and a roaring sound of escaping gas that could be heard from miles away. No injuries have been reported.
A transgender African-American woman is facing trial for murder after an incident outside a Minneapolis bar where she was reportedly harassed and then physically attacked. CeCe McDonald, who is 23 years old, is scheduled to stand trial later this month for second-degree murder. But supporters say McDonald was the victim on June 5, 2011, after two women and a man, all of them Caucasian, began harassing her and her friends outside a bar, calling them racial and homophobic slurs. One woman then allegedly hit McDonald in the side of the face with a glass beer mug. While the events remain unclear, a fight then ensued that left 47-year-old Dean Schmitz dead after he was apparently stabbed by a pair of fabric scissors that had been in McDonald’s purse. Police arrested McDonald, but did not arrest anyone else at the scene. McDonald received 11 stitches after her salivary gland was lacerated and the side of her cheek was sliced open by the beer mug. She was reportedly interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. There were reports the dead man, Dean Schmitz, had a swastika tattooed on his chest and was known for making hateful remarks. McDonald supporters have compared the case to Trayvon Martin and said it highlights bias against transgender people and African Americans in the criminal justice system. She could face up to 80 years in prison.
In New York City, a number of activists were arrested on Wednesday marking the 25th anniversary of ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — an international direct action advocacy group formed to challenge the government’s mismanagement of the AIDS crisis. At least nine people were detained after chaining themselves together and blockading a street to call for a tax on Wall Street to fund AIDS services and treatment.
Eric Sawyer, ACT UP activist: “We’ve made a lot of progress since those days when we were here in 1987 for the first protest. We only had one treatment for HIV approved. It was AZT. It wasn’t an effective treatment by itself. There was not enough research happening. There were a number of promising drugs that could be tested that weren’t getting tested. There were no social protections, no anti-discrimination laws. There was no safety net. People with AIDS didn’t have access to Medicaid card, food stamps, to housing. There were no protections for people against getting fired from their jobs, denied insurance, evicted from their apartments, or really to deal with violence that was happening all over against people with AIDS. Their houses were being burned. People were being beaten up. A lot of that has changed, but we still don’t have a government commitment to end the AIDS crisis. We know we could now. We know that if we get people on treatment, their viral load goes away, they become non-infectious. It reduces the infectivity to 97 percent. So we need the funds to get everybody on treatment, not only to keep people with AIDS healthy, but to stop the spread of the virus.”