Syrian troops have reportedly launched fresh assaults on rebels in Homs, Daraa and the suburbs of Damascus. There are also reports of a steep rise in refugees crossing into Turkey. This comes as U.N. envoy Kofi Annan travels to Damascus to discuss implementing a ceasefire plan that is supposed to be in place no later than April 12. According to Amnesty International, at least 232 Syrians have died since Syria accepted Annan’s six-point peace plan last week.
In news from Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people Wednesday, including four U.S. soldiers who had strayed from their base to take photographs in a park despite warnings not to roam around the city. The killings occurred in Maymana, the capital of the relatively peaceful Faryab province. In western Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen have reportedly killed eight local Afghan police officers. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has sent a letter to President Obama urging him to accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that recent steps to pull troops back from combat in 2013 do not go far enough.
The Pentagon has ordered accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four suspected co-conspirators to stand trial before a Guantánamo war crimes tribunal. All five of the men were once held in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantánamo in 2006. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the decision not to try the men in a civilian court. The ACLU’s Anthony Romero said the tribunals violate due process by allowing the use of hearsay and coerced or secret evidence. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the decision to proceed to trial.
Jay Carney: “Well, it has been more than 10 years since 9/11, first of all, and the President is committed to ensuring that those who are accused of perpetrating the 9/11 attacks against the United States be brought to justice. The President remains committed to shutting down Guantánamo Bay. In that commitment, he is of the same opinion as his predecessor, as his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, as the senior leadership of the United States military and many, many others, who believe that Gitmo ought to be closed.”
In Greece, a 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot and killed himself outside parliament in Athens on Wednesday. His suicide note reportedly said, “I have no other way to react apart from finding a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage for food.” The suicide has prompted an outpouring of sympathy from Greek citizens, who held a protest march and set up an impromptu shrine with notes condemning the economic crisis. One note asked, “Who will be the next victim?”
Efforts by the United States to discourage children from smoking have resulted in a fight between the United States and the World Trade Organization. On Wednesday, the WTO said a U.S. law banning the production and sale of cigarettes with cloves violated global trade rules and was unfair to Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of clove cigarettes. The watchdog group Public Citizen is urging the Obama administration to refuse to comply with the WTO ruling. Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach said, “This case underscores why countries must insist that WTO rules be altered and that no new agreements use the same corporate backdoor deregulation model.”
Four former New Orleans police officers convicted of shooting unarmed people following Hurricane Katrina were sentenced to prison on Wednesday in what the U.S. government described as the most important police misconduct case since the Rodney King beating nearly two decades ago. The officers — Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso — were sentenced by a federal judge to between 38 and 65 years in prison. A fifth former officer, Arthur Kaufman, was sentenced to six years. Kaufman did not participate in the killings but engineered a four-year cover-up of the crimes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that the time to find a diplomatic resolution with Iran over its nuclear program is “not infinite.” She said all options remain on the table.
Hillary Clinton: “We want to see a peaceful resolution of the international community’s concerns, but the time for diplomacy is not infinite, and all options remain on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and until Iran comes into compliance with its international obligations and demonstrates the peaceful intent of its nuclear program, they will continue to face strong pressure and isolation.”
Reuters is reporting a U.S. drone crashed Wednesday at the main airport in Seychelles. The Indian Ocean archipelago is home to a secret U.S. drone base used for hunter-killer missions in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa.
The United States has announced plans to ease some sanctions on Burma. The move comes just days after Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a bid for parliament after spending much of the past two decades under house arrest and in detention.
Chile’s Supreme Court has approved a plan to build five hydroelectric dams in Patagonia despite strong opposition from environmental groups. The project will involve flooding 15,000 acres of land, including large swathes of forest.
President Obama has signed a new law aimed at curbing insider trading in Congress. The STOCK Act, or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, prevents members of Congress from using confidential information to trade stocks and securities and requires lawmakers to publicly disclose stock and other trades within 45 days. The insider trading ban also extends to congressional staff and other government officials. Obama praised the new law.
President Obama: “The STOCK Act makes it clear that if members of Congress use nonpublic information to gain an unfair advantage in the market, then they are breaking the law. It creates new disclosure requirements and new measures of accountability and transparency for thousands of federal employees. That is a good and necessary thing. We were sent here to serve the American people and look out for their interests, not to look out for our own interests.”
President Obama is expected to sign the so-called JOBS Act today in an effort to roll back major regulations for emerging businesses. The legislation has drawn widespread criticism for scaling back corporate checks and balances and posing a potential risk to investors. Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer called the act “a bad sequel to a bad movie,” saying, “It shouldn’t be called the JOBS Act, it should be called the Bring Fraud Back to Wall Street Act.”
In business news, the internet giant Yahoo has announced plans to cut 2,000 jobs in its sixth mass layoff in the past four years. The cuts represent the biggest layoff in the company’s 17-year history and include at least 14 percent of Yahoo’s workforce.
Detroit’s City Council has voted to give power to an oversight board that would review the city’s finances and its attempts to force concessions from city workers unions. The decision came amid fears of a state-appointed emergency manager taking control of the city. Meanwhile, a federal judge has rejected an attempt by municipal unions to stop the new agreement.
Harper’s Magazine has posted online a number of videos purportedly showing Blackwater guards in action in Iraq. One video dated April 1, 2006, shows an armored vehicle swerving to run over a woman in a black full-length burka as she attempted to cross the street. None of the vehicles in the armed convoy stopped after she was run over. Other videos show armed vehicles smashing into cars driven by Iraqi civilians in an order to move them out of the way. Harper’s reports that the Blackwater tape ended with the inscription: “In support of security, peace, freedom and democracy everywhere.”
Eleven state attorneys general have issued a letter to Congress declaring their support for a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, the controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending on election campaigns. The advocacy group, Free Speech for People, hailed the move as a step toward reclaiming democracy.
The Manhattan District Attorney has dropped charges against New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, who was arrested when the police cleared the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park last year. Rodríguez was initially charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration.